Business intelligence comes into sharp view

* The Sharp Analytics business model

Ask any executive if he would like to have better access to business intelligence in order to make better business decisions, and he’s likely to say “Who wouldn’t?” Then ask him why he doesn’t already have access to better BI, and he is likely to blame it on the big investments in time and technology as barriers to entry. I mean, don’t BI systems take years and cost millions to implement? Not if you outsource your BI.

That’s the premise behind the Sharp Analytics business model. The company has the technology infrastructure and expertise required to process and distill vast amounts of data. The company also has subject matter experts (SME) to help figure out what you want the data to reveal. From that point on, you provide the raw data feeds and then sit back and view the results through a Web-based dashboard.

Sharp Analytics was founded five years ago with an eye on helping companies analyze their marketing data. “We saw a need to bridge the gap between IT and marketers,” says Chuck Sharp, CEO. “Marketing departments would have all kinds of activities and then look at the results of each individual activity without seeing the larger picture of an entire campaign. Sharp Analytics helps them pull the data together to analyze a campaign over time to see which activities are effective, and which ones aren’t.”

While the marketing industry is certainly a specialty for Sharp Analytics - Chuck Sharp’s primary expertise is in marketing - the company can handle data analysis for a number of different disciplines, including financial, utilities, retail and other companies with a data-rich environment.

I mentioned that Sharp uses an outsourcing model. Really and truly, it’s more of an ASP model. Sharp controls the infrastructure that does the data crunching, but you still control how the data is viewed and used. The model goes something like this:

You engage Sharp Analytics to set up a data feed (usually via FTP) into an Oracle-based application called SharpView, which is hosted at a major data center facility. You can have multiple inbound streams feeding the data repository. Sharp looks for bad data coming in to head off information quality issues later down the line, and then dedupes, matches and correlates the data for analysis. Sharp then uses Corda Centerview technology to present the data in very visual ways that are meaningful to you. You also can do structured ad hoc queries with your data. All you need is a Web browser to view the results.

Sharp uses a results-oriented iterative approach, analyzing small areas of data in order to deliver quick results, and then incorporating more data sources to build a broader view of what story the data tells. Using a baseball analogy, the idea is to just get a guy on base, rather than aiming for a home run right out of the shoot.

With business analytics, not only can you see what has been happening with your business historically, but you also can do predictive analysis. For instance, a Sharp Analytics banking customer has been able to predict what services will sell best at particular times of the year, and has subsequently increased its business by 20%.

Pricing for the Sharp Analytics service is dependent on the amount of data you feed into the system, the frequency of the data feeds, and the number of integrations required. In addition, you have access to an SME/analyst who can help you figure out ways to get the best information from your data. On average, monthly prices range from $1,500 to $5,000 for “all-you-can-eat BI,” as Chuck Sharp calls it. The flat fee gives you flexibility as well as the comfort of knowing what your budget is. Sharp asks customers to sign 12 month contracts, with pricing and business reviews at 90 days.

And how soon can you expect results? Literally, within weeks of starting a project. Chuck Sharp told me about a customer that had tried to implement its own BI project internally. After a year’s time and a lot of wasted money, the company still had nothing to show for it. Chuck’s team went it and delivered actionable results in just a few weeks.

For your part, there is no investment in infrastructure, or even in the SME. Rolling your own application could costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) and take months (or longer) to get results. And you’d still have to hire the SME!

If you have a lot of data that is holding secrets that are waiting to be told, perhaps it’s time to reveal them through outsourced BI.

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