The value of Business Intelligence (BI) is well established and a growing focus of technology implementations world-wide. BI may be part of an integrated Enterprise System (ERP) or an add-on solution from a third-party specialty provider. Either way, the following tips might help you get more from your BI initiative.
- Gather the data – BI’s strength comes from its inclusion of data from throughout the business and the supply chain. Having access to more data from more business areas multiplies the benefits of BI analytics. If your current system environment is made up of a collection of application sets from a number of developers with custom interfaces and home-grown code, you are facing a formidable task in gathering data from many sources into the BI data warehouse (and keeping it synchronized and up to date). If you are starting at ground zero or are due for a system replacement, consider moving to an integrated suite of products (ERP) to reduce the number of separate integrations required… even better if the product suite already has a robust BI module built in.
- Use the right BI tool for your business needs – There are many rich data discovery tools out there (e.g., Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, Qlik, Birst) any of which can provide stunningly beautiful analytics and data visualization. Ease of use (is it truly self-service or do users need technical help to use it effectively?) is an important characteristic to keep in mind. If the users find it difficult to create and use the measures they need, they won’t use it. Beyond that, you must derive a list of the measurements that will be meaningful for your business and for the individual users that you can built with your chosen BI system. Is daily same-store sales vs. prior year a key metric? Is resource utilization a factor? Are inventory turns a concern? Do you need real-time dashboards, monthly reports, alerts, ad hoc queries? Do you require predictive analysis and what-if modeling? You may want real-time updates, but if the business process doesn’t support it (e.g., workers submit time sheets weekly), it won’t happen. Think hard about your key metrics and make sure your chosen system, and the data sources, can provide them on the schedule you need.
- It takes people, processes and tools – Content may be king, but context is god. Powerful analytical tools must be applied through well thought-out processes combined with human curation and data governance to provide real BI value. Be sure the users understand the tools and the underlying data enough to be able to interpret and use the analyses. Groom data stewards (including technical supporters for the users) who understand the business process, data flow, and systems, and then train them to be passionate about data quality and problem-solving with the data.
- Make it available – BI tools have to go mobile as the world moves to smart phones and tablets for their primary access to everything digital. The best reports and analysis in the world are useless if they aren’t available to users when they need them. In our always-on 24/7 world, secure anytime access to key reports, analysis and alerts is a requirement. Mobile BI apps and search-driven BI shorten the time between questions and answers.
- Lather, rinse, repeat – No system is perfect when delivered, and no organization or market remains static. Your users will tell you what isn’t ideal and what could be better. This is a good thing. Be alert for any comments and suggestions – you know the system can be better and the users are your best guide as to how to improve. Be willing and able to continue refinement and extension of your BI system. Survey your users about what works and what doesn’t work the way they would like it to. Convene periodic improvement sessions with your business stakeholders to solicit input.