Thursday, June 2, 2011

What's the difference between a tool and a solution?

The Urban Dictionary has a lot of (ahem) colorful definitions for the word "tool." The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition is more basic.

It defines it as "a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task." And many of the claimants to the business intelligence mantle prove to be nothing more than that: tools (sometimes in both sense of the word).

During a recent conversation with a colleague, he said to me: "I find it shocking how many otherwise sophisticated companies are still using Excel to drive business decisions." It's sad but true.

While software has evolved and morphed into so much more than spreadsheets, business decision making for the most part remains mired in manually prepared spreadsheets that are susceptible to data errors.

And the "tools" that claim to be business intelligence solutions are focused on one single task: making Excel data look prettier.

Examples include tools such as SAP Crystal Presentation Design, iDashboards, and IBM's Cognos PowerPlay. They are point-and-click data visualization software that creates prettier data presentations from Excel spreadsheets.

These tools might work for organizations that don't need to dive deep into their data for analysis. They do the job they're designed to do, but they don't provide additional functional capabilities, drive operational improvements, or enhance knowledge of the business. And there is little to no domain expertise behind them. Want more capable tools from the big boys? It's going to cost you a ton of time and money.

By way of comparison, solutions like HardMetrics Performance Manager provide an overarching mission-critical service to an organization. With HardMetrics on the job, managers from front-line operations to the C-suite can quickly and cost effectively:

  • Consolidate and view data across the enterprise
  • Filter, sort, and analyze data; both business real-time and historical
  • Keep a close watch on trends in the business
  • Slice-and-dice data
  • Drill down to determine specific drivers of performance, down to the individual employee level
  • Compare actual performance against forecast and required goals
  • Identify outperforming and underperforming operations, as well as performance drivers, so best practices can be evangelized and struggling operations can be triaged

Those of you who know me, know that I jump out of my skin when I hear HardMetrics referred to as a tool. BI tools are just a Band-Aid. They give you a pretty presentation, but they don't give you depth nor tell you anything about your business.

So if you'd like to add a little excitement to our next meeting, in the first five minutes call HardMetrics a tool. Hopefully I will not have had too much coffee that morning and I won't act like a tool. ;)

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