Many column inches have been devoted to ‘Business Intelligence’, ‘Cloud Computing’, ‘Compliance and Control’ but rarely have these topics been brought together and almost never in the SME sector. But the notion that BI on the move should be restricted to large businesses or that the need for business control is the sole preserve of regulated companies is misguided. SME’s can be just as demanding and complex in some respects as big businesses – they just happen to be smaller, says Gary Simon, managing editor, FSN.
The term ‘Business Intelligence’ has never sat comfortably in the mid-market. Invented by the IT industry more than two decades ago, the term is seen as too grandiose and irrelevant to entrepreneurial and owner-managed businesses struggling to maintain focus on liquidity, profitability and growth. But terminology apart, the concept of business intelligence is every bit as valid as it ever was. SME’s like their larger brethren need access to timely, accurate and actionable information. The dilemma is how does one make vital business information accessible to business owners who are long on business acumen but short on IT skills?
Early attempts to solve this in the SME sector relied on separate BI solutions that could be coupled with shrink-wrapped software to deliver management reports, exceptions and charts. The problem was that early solutions were bedevilled with complex user setup and it could be days or weeks before a productive and reliable on-premises system could be established. Employing outside contractors was costly and time consuming for management and making changes, however slight, suffered the same limitations.
But how the world has changed! Take for example Mamut One a business solution aimed foursquare at the SME sector and its online desktop – aptly named ‘Mamut Online Desktop’. Through this application Mamut is able to give users the choice of displaying exactly the same management information they see on their PC or network in their office (on-premise) over the web as well.
At first sight this may not be startling. Like most great developments the simplicity of the solution sometimes masks the significance of the underlying technical achievement. But Mamut Online Desktop represents a major step forward in three main respects;
- There is no user configuration involved. The desktop fully ‘understands’ the the underlying accounting/business system and automatically pulls the data from the relevant parts of the system, summarises and presents it in dashboards that are immediately accessible, meaningful and usable.
- Invoking the Online Desktop is simply a matter of registering with Mamut’s online service. Once this is done, Mamut’s servers synchronise with the local PC or network and build a complete management information system or ‘Desktop’. Subsequently, any changes made to the local database or the parallel system on the web are re-synchronised every time a connection is re-established.
- Lastly and uniquely in the SME sector (in FSN’s experience), Mamut provides online integrity checking and exception reporting through ‘Mamut Validis’. In practice this means that anomalous data and trends are identified in reports for further investigation – a sort of cut down GRC (governance risk and control) capability.
Technically speaking the solution is very advanced and interesting. Most software vendors offer two deeply contrasting approaches, namely; the traditional ‘on-premises’ solution or the much vaunted ‘cloud computing’ solution where all of the capability is hosted on a remote server over the web. Mamut Online Desktop straddles these two extremes with its ‘software + services’ solution in which the accounting software is held ‘on-premises’ but the management information is held, at the users’ discretion, on-premises or on the web or both.
But why is this important? In today’s fast moving ‘networked economy’ personnel are constantly on the move and need access to up to date information. Even small businesses need to share data and the capability of Mamut OnLine Desktop means that multiple users have access to management information (security permitting) even if they are not users of the accounting system. For example the desktop gives access to all of the contact (supplier, customer and employee) records on the system as well as timesheets and their status. Business managers can get instant access to operating margins, the Profit and Loss account, key operating ratios, large debtors, important customers by turnover and much more. Information boxes in the dashboard can be switched on or off as desired to give a specific view, but most importantly this is achievable with no prior BI or systems experience.
It is an on-demand solution for creating ad-hoc reports, conducting what-if analyses and securely sharing this information within the company and outside if required. SMEs can provide customers, partners and employees across the business with immediate, anytime access to the most current data, exporting to Excel if needed.
Of course access to information is one thing but making it actionable is quite another. This is where the OnLine Desktop with its default layout of essential information scores highly, placing key information at the users’ fingertips and allowing them to zoom in on crucial aspects of under and over performance to make informed decisions.
Mamut OnLine Desktop puts information at users’ fingertips no matter where or when they need it.
Mamut OnLine Desktop automatically synchronises with the on-premises installation
But the unique control element in Mamut Validis should not be underestimated. Despite the often close involvement of proprietors in owner managed businesses mistakes do happen. The system’s ability to highlight unusual conditions provides an early warning, allowing business owners to intervene before matters take a turn for the worse. Control and compliance are terms normally associated with large listed companies subject to a much more onerous regulatory environment. Small businesses do not face the same regulatory pressures but Mamut’s capability is a timely reminder that effective control makes good business sense regardless of the size of the organisation. Research shows that the cost of ‘repairing’ an incorrect transaction is around 80 percent higher than correct first time processing – so there are compelling reasons to ensure a suitable level of control.
With around 25 percent of every workers day simply spent looking for information the growing trend towards business information on demand is a welcome development. What Mamut have achieved is to create a level playing field. With the Online Desktop they have put SMEs on the same footing as larger companies, taking the hard work out creating information on demand and making it affordable and accessible to businesses of all sizes.