“How do I work with big data without spending big money?” That’s the question more and more businesses are asking themselves. Luckily, business intelligence has become more accessible over the years with more affordable and easy-to-use tools. The name of the game is tapping into your business’s existing assets to turn BI into strategic insights that can help inform decisions and keep your business ahead of the competition.

Real-time insights win the race

To become a successful, data-driven organization, you need to make it easy for teams to publish and share their findings in a scalable way. The value in having access to real-time customer insights is using them to make quick-turn decisions that beat out competitors.

In 1999, Best Buy did a study, using historical data, to predict sales of film versus digital cameras. Of course, at this time the market was on the verge of a massive shift toward digital, and because Best Buy used historical data, they completely missed the mark and incorrectly predicted steady continued sales in film. 

If they had been able to use real-time data (not historical data), they would’ve gained more accurate insights into what customers were actually interested in. That’s the power of BI. It gives you a real-time view of what your customers are saying, searching for, and most importantly, asking for and buying.

Use what you already own

Today, BI tools are becoming more integrated with technology that we’re already familiar with. This means organizations can rely on their existing software to collect customer insights. For example, most organizations already use Microsoft Excel and have a staff with a general understanding of it.

According to ShiSh Shridhar, Retail Industry Solutions director at Microsoft, all you need is Excel 2013—with that you’ll gain access to a world of free add-ins, “like Power Query for discovering data, Power View for doing interesting visualizations with that data, Power Pivot for building the correlations and models with disparate data sets, and Power Map for visualizing the data in 3D maps.”

By using what your business already has, you can easily organize, analyze, and visualize your data. “With Excel, you can achieve a lot of things without a full data and analytics team,” said Jason Baick, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft in the BI and Big Data group. Leveraging existing software, you can minimize overall costs for your company while still collecting valuable customer insights.

Everyday intelligence

Business insights shouldn’t just sit inside isolated departments; there should be a steady collection and flow across your entire organization. This requires making sure these familiar tools are accessible to everyone. For the cruise-ship company Holland America Line its former BI tool was complicated and difficult to analyze so they leaned heavily on the IT staff for reports.

“When you have a tool that is difficult to use, data gets stale real quick, and IT looks bad,” said Greg Yule, Manager of Holland America’s Data Warehouse Architecture. The company needed powerful BI tools that were easy to use so that more people would use them. That’s when it enlisted Microsoft’s SQL Server BI tool. As a result the level of self-service data mining went up threefold, making Holland America a data-driven organization capable of making better operational decisions that benefit both Holland America and guests. 

Using these powerful and easy BI tools can boost collaboration and empower those on the brink of discovering the next big idea for your business. “It’s really for anyone who has a desire to prove out a theory through metrics,” said Baick. The value is in being able to rely on existing team members to gather, share, and act on real-time insights.

Open data, endless possibilities

For companies ready to take the data dive, publicly available data is a great place to start. Open data is free and consists of social data (such as Twitter), weather data, and demographic data. Both Bing search and Google trends can be exported and analyzed in Excel and consumed in Power BI with an add-in.

Other open data sources require a third-party tool to pull the information into Excel. For example, demographic data (obtained from the census) exists in a raw state and needs to be “cleansed,” before being analyzed. Shridhar recommends that small business consult with third-party companies and data brokers, such as Neustar and DataSift, to acquire more data, such as demographic data.

BI + your company 

Consumer-driven BI and analytics is a way for employees to play with data that they find interesting and, in turn, discover and share insights that are valuable for their business. With more affordable and easy-to-use BI tools, every employee can be an insight asset, helping your business stay more connected and make better, data-driven decisions.