‘A business intelligence system improves business outcomes’ was the strong message from the Speakers’ Panel

24 November 2017

‘A business intelligence system improves business outcomes’ was the strong message from the Speakers’ Panel

The fifteenth Leadership Insights Speakers’ Panel, titled ‘Establishing a Powerful Business Intelligence System’, was hosted by Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship at Henley Business School on 20 November 2017. Sponsored by James Cowper Kreston and supported by Thames Valley Business Growth Hub, the Panel addressed the subject of business intelligence (BI) and how it can improve decision making and business performance, both of which are rapidly becoming the topic of the day for many SMEs.  

The panel featured three speakers: Chris Craggs, the founder and CEO of McFarlane Telfer, a kitchen equipment maintenance services company that has delivered sustained double-digit growth and an unparalleled portfolio of customers over the years and was awarded a Princess Royal Training Award in 2017, as well as being a finalist at the Thames Valley Business Magazines Awards 2017, earning a ‘highly commended’ recognition; Chris Rauch, recently made EVP Customer Success at leading business software company Sage and previously VP of Customers for Life at Sage People (formerly Fairsail), a cloud based people management software supplier voted number one scale up in the UK in 2016; and Chris Yates, Head of Data and Analytics at award-winning national same-day courier service CitySprint.  

Jurek Sikorski, Executive Director of the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship, opened by sharing how one early stage technology company has grown by establishing a business intelligence system. The company supplies automated machine learning driven forecasting solutions as a service to fresh produce growers and distributors worldwide and has started small by building a BI system that focuses on customer engagement and sales performance, cost control and cash management. This enables them to provide visual reports on the state of the business to the board.  

Jurek explained that these reports help the board make fast and accurate decisions that positively impact business performance. He then expanded to describe the benefits of working with a BI system, including a better understanding of the business (especially customer behaviour and how the business is changing), the identification of new sales opportunities, saving time and removing inefficiencies.  

In closing, Jurek highlighted that sales were key to a growing and sustainable business and that measuring the key sales metrics – sales by month/product/channel/order/new vs. returning customer/prior activity – allowed the company to manage sales growth better than it would do without a BI system.


Chris opened with a view of what BI is all about, stressing the all-important point that BI has to inform and enable action to be of any value and it is results that count. Chris went on to say that we should not lose sight of the fact that BI serves the needs of the company and most SMEs have simple needs.


Chris Craggs, CEO of McFarlane Telfer, delivers the first presentation

Chris pointed out the fact the most SMEs with data overload with less than half a percentage point of data that is ever analysed and this in its own right creates an enormous opportunity where a BI system offers a way to exploit. Chris went on to postulate the imperative that McFT follows, which is enabled by BI that follows a sequence of identifying the main issues (and quick wins), measuring, reporting, analysing and (strongly) executing, with the emphasis on the latter.  

Chris also revealed that not all BI is good and that what is not should be struck out. Chris shared some of the metrics McFT measures that helps it define actions at the individual and companywide level. Chris warned against negative bias. Whilst it is important to deal with the complaints and setbacks, McFT is proud to communicate achievements that BI picks out and highlights. Chris iterated ‘gather the good stuff and play it back’, which is key driver of motivation.  

Customer experience is everything. Making it effortless for the customer to work with the work is paramount and a value exhibited by McFT. Chris reminded us that it takes people to make things happen and change things, for there is always room for improvement.  

Concluding, Chris posed the $64,000 question which every SME needs to answer: ‘What is the return on investment in people who are charged with making things happen based on the analysis that BI throws up, whether this is good or bad?’ Chris then summarised by saying BI adds real value only if you do something with it.


The next speaker, Chris Rauch, opened with an insight into how Sage People (formerly Fairsail) had scaled and delivered phenomenal revenue and headcount growth over the 10 year period since its start and ultimate sale to Sage. Chris explained that BI played an important part in Fairsail becoming the number one scale up company in the UK before its sale.  

Chris uses the Salesforce platform, which he strongly recommended for every SME. The Salesforce platform allows him to collect data from across the company and display via his range of real time recording dashboards and charts, which he uses at board meetings to answer questions and punctuate strategy discussions.

Chris was particularly dogmatic in pointing out that data is only of value when put into context and that understanding your data which BI provides is what drives actions and outcomes. For Sage People everything is in Salesforce and easily visualised to help with action planning.


Chris Rauch, Executive Vice President of Customer Success at Sage

Chris spoke passionately about how Sage People is using BI to drive business outcomes, covering a range of aspects from product adoption and customer engagement to building the pipeline, adopting customer suggestions and hitting revenue targets. These are tracked in real time, allowing action to be taken immediately to ensure targets in these aspects are being achieved.  

Chris highlighted the important of making sense of the data when answering questions with simple charts to ensure the information is actionable.  

To conclude, Chris summarised what is critical in successfully establishing and using a BI system: start with questions, create a narrative, assign clear accountability for data capture, monitor and manage data quality, put everything in one tool and run your meetings from the tool rather than PowerPoint.


Chris Yates brought the panel presentations to a close with a practical insight into the working of a BI system, explaining how it has helped CitySprint build successful partnerships with some of the big names in industry today, which include businesses like Adidas, Apple, Dixons Carphone, ITV and Wickes.  

Chris provided a really fascinating insight into the BI tools used by CitySprint, covering the visualisation and business analytic tools from Qlik and how these have positively impacted the business. Chris also highlighted several areas where managers have benefited, including improving the approach to pricing, optimising resourcing, directing technology investment and enhancing customer engagement.


Chris Yates, Head of Data and Analytics at CitySprint, delivering the closing presentation

Chris went onto share some of the BI plans CitySprint have in the future. Most notably the introduction of an AI platform to allow the analysis of unstructured data such as phone calls, which often are crucial touch points with customers, proved to be of real interest to the assembled audience.  

Chris closed with his top five quick tips: start small with a project to get momentum and build from there, use specialist capability to develop early wins for the business, don’t leave it up to IT but get the business involved, collect clean and accurate data without blaming IT and know how to look at a dashboard and how to turn a red indicator green.  

The Q&A session was particularly lively, with questions from the audience ranging from ‘how can we improve productivity, which is stubbornly flat at this time and a priority for the government, using BI?’ to ‘what will BI bring in the future?’ with some extremely helpful answers from the panel.

A stream of positive comments were provided by attendees in feeding back on the event:  

Chris Dodson, Chairman of Toftech: “The panel was excellent.”  

Karla Pena, MD of Express Mobile Spa: “Excellent panel with great insights.”  

Simon Blunn, MD Qlik UK: “A really great panel.”  

Henley Business School is delighted to have hosted the ‘Establishing a Powerful BI system’ speakers’ panel and moved the debate forward on the growing adoption of business intelligence systems by SMEs.  

Business intelligence will feature next year in the Henley Business School hosted ‘Brittelstand Symposium 2018’, scheduled for 19 September 2018 and held at Greenlands Campus, Henley-on-Thames.  

The next Speakers’ Panel titled ‘Building Strong Customer Loyalty’ will be on 19 February 2018, starting at the earlier time of 5.30pm.  

The University of Reading is committed to work with the SME community in the Thames Valley Region for mutual benefit.  

Read more at http://www.reading.ac.uk/about/working-with-business.aspx  

Contact and Notes: 

Jurek Sikorski

Executive Director, Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship

Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship

Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship is part of Henley Business School at the University of Reading. It provides a hub for teaching and research in the subject, inspiring students from across the University to embrace, develop and apply their entrepreneurial abilities.  

E: jurek.sikorski@henley.ac.uk

W: http://www.henley.ac.uk/research/research-centres/henley-centre-for-entrepreneurship/    

Sponsors and supporters of the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship Programme of Events:


James Cowper Kreston (JCK) is a leading firm of accountants and business advisers. James Cowper Kreston sets itself apart from the rest of the UK’s top accountants and business advisers through its unique approach of combining professionalism, flexibility and passion. It is a massive supporter of the SME ecosystem in the Thames Valley.


VitalSix is a business services firm that helps ambitious early stage businesses grow their business. Since its launch in January 2014, it has helped hundreds of businesses in Berkshire to grow in size, access new markets, increase profits and raise finance.


The Thames Valley Berkshire Business Growth Hub provides a single gateway for ambitious businesses who are seeking information, guidance, support, expertise, finance, knowledge and experience. The Growth Hub provides them with the tools they need to scale up and grow, boost performance and find new ways of working.

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If you have any questions, please contact Jurek Sikorski by email at jurek.sikorski@henley.ac.uk or by phone on +44 (0)118 378 8188.