This month, I’m sharing a story about business intelligence (BI). It’s easy to get caught up in just processing business transactions and not think about the stories they’re telling, but there’s so much valuable data that we capture that can be used for stronger controls and more effective spending when we look at the bigger picture.
I was invited by a group to discuss internal controls. Before meeting with them, I began drilling down their transaction history and support, and then I studied it. I used several tools to conduct the business intelligence and prepared my training materials into dashboard reports, graphs, etc.
As I went through the training exercises with the team, I had the group track and trend the data and categorize it. First, we reviewed how prices in the reports varied for identical products bought by the same department. Then, we studied volume differences on the products being purchased, where they were purchased from, and finally we captured all the costs. As the data was assembled and captured, several clear stories were told.
After the group organized their data, they presented their assessments. I then had them try and determine the department that was responsible for the transactions we were studying. Ironically, not one of the department members guessed it correctly and were shocked to learn that it was their own department’s data. Through their own analysis, I was able to help them realize better decision making was a must. Moreover, they realized that everybody needed to be involved in the decision making process – a proper chain of command on decision making, approval and reconciling, etc. was necessary to ensure the department was getting the most for its money. The group reflected that sharing purchasing information across the department allowed them to determine oddities quickly, which adds another layer of internal controls. They agreed that best pricing should be sought when ordering products, and that better choices should be made when it comes to purchasing goods: ordering should be organized and there has to be a direct need. It goes to show you that transactions can tell a story when there’s so much data to leverage – for buying power, maintaining budgets and ensuring expenditures support the mission.
It’s highly encouraging to me that departments and managers routinely perform business intelligence. By doing so, we’re incorporating controls. This is where we can detect potential fraud, find best pricing, determine the best place to purchase goods from, determine the best goods and services, spot scams, look for obsolete items, find waste, etc. In turn, these efforts give the University tremendous leverage in negotiating prices and contracts.