Establishing a strong business intelligence (BI) strategy for your business can be extremely powerful - if it’s done correctly. The key to getting it right? Having a complete strategy that combines historical BI with forward-looking predictive analytics.
Here, we break down exactly how to develop this kind of BI strategy and how to use it to strengthen your business.
What is BI and How It Can Help Your Business
In the big picture, BI is essentially a comprehensive analytics solution that you can use to better understand your company and the state of the market that you’re growing in. The operative word here is comprehensive: in order for BI to really work, you have to start from the ground up and ensure that you don’t leave out any key components.
This means that, at the very least, your BI plan must include: your strategy, your team, your sources and your data storage. That said, checking these items off the list is no easy task, as doing so requires exact development and implementation. Let’s dive into the specifics:
How to Create BI Strategy
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to creating and implementing a new BI strategy. Here are the 4 main components that must be addressed:
At its core, BI is all about analytics and data, which means that you need to have both of those things in order if you want a strong overall strategy. Specifically, you need to understand and organize the following:
At this point, it goes without saying that BI involves a lot of work, which means that you need to make sure that your team can effectively organize their tasks and carry out a strong BI plan. Here are the five main BI “roles” to incorporate into your business. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean you need five different people accomplishing these tasks, but rather that you should ensure that someone on your team has the bandwidth and skill to fill these shoes:
So why do you need all of these “roles” filled on your team? BI is completely useless if it’s done wrong or incompletely, and the reality is that it will be incomplete without dedicated team members.
Think about it: without committed BI team members, existing employees will have to split their time and choose between conducting their analytics and focusing on other core aspects of their position. In such instances, BI will always come second, which means that certain aspects of the job will most certainly fall through the cracks.
This is especially true if there is no one in the company that’s holding the team accountable and ensuring that BI efforts don’t go to waste, so it’s particularly helpful to have someone in your upper management as part of.your BI team and support system.
Most businesses these days have data coming in from many different sources, and all of this information must be analyzed comprehensively in order to have an accurate and effective BI strategy. This means that you have to gather and organize your:
The first step here, then, is figuring out what data sources you have, what information is most relevant from each source, and how to look at them comprehensively. This brings us to our next point - data storage.
Once you know the what of your data sources, you have to decide on the where. For most businesses, of course, this means choosing and building a data warehouse. If they’re organized correctly, data warehouses can give you a comprehensive view of your company’s history so that you can understand how well your efforts are working and make powerful strategic decisions. Once again, though, it’s all about taking your time and doing it correctly. For DWH’s, this means determining things like:
Focusing on these four components and developing them is the first step to creating a comprehensive and useful BI strategy for your business. Of course, this is merely a cursory overview, not a complete breakdown of BI.
For a step-by-step breakdown, check out our eBook How to Build an End-to-End BI Solution or contact one of our solution experts today.
Implementing a business intelligence strategy for any organization can be a daunting task. Oftentimes you are met with skepticism, outrage about a changing toolset, and a very real fear of taking someone’s job away from them. As a senior business intelligence consultant who specializes in global retail analytics, in my last tenure I was fortunate enough to have three cracks at implementing a BI strategy, with two of them failing incredibly well (I know, a strange choice of words, but I’ll get into that a little further down).
A business intelligence strategy is: The art of planning and delivering data-driven insights to drive sustained growth and innovation. I use the word ‘art’ because all of BI is some culmination of data and artistic ability. Business data must be presented to the organization in a way that any person can understand and digest the information at-hand, and thus must be designed and set-up so that it does so effectively. This presentation of data is the ‘art’ of BI.
This blog post will offer specific real-world insights for delivering an effective business intelligence strategy. Far from an end-all-be-all definitive guide, this piece offers a collection of real-world examples, tried and tested, that showcase what a successful business intelligence strategy looks like, and illustrates how you can avoid pitfalls.
Before we get into what an effective strategy should look like, we need to set the foundation for an effective business intelligence strategy.
Prior to diving into a strategy, first outline what you want to accomplish as part of this strategy, i.e. what is the overall vision. An effective vision might be something like:
The vision should be broad but also concise enough to create a plan that can be implemented. A key question I like to answer as a part of the vision is: What needs to happen in order to move our organization up the maturity ladder, from a data perspective?
The team responsible for creating and deploying a business intelligence strategy should consist of cross-functional, highly data-driven individuals who will be your main insight into the business. These individuals will help with the following:
As early as possible, you want to safely generate some space between your BI team and your internal IT team. The reason here is two-fold: you never want to be looked at as a Cost Center, which is how most internal IT teams are seen. You always want to be a Revenue Generator, as this will allow you to get away from the notion that your team is simply IT.
Make sure your BI team is positioned as a strategic group of individuals that drive business growth via innovation in data-driven insights.
Every major BI initiative you take within your organization needs to be driven by an executive, period. The reason why – other than it coming from someone with a voice at “the table” – is that executive investment validates the fact that data is important to the organization.
An executive sponsor will also help get alignment across the organization on the following:
*Note how having the SME team already prepares you a little for this.
The executive sponsor should be someone who values data, has a deep understanding of the benefits, and more importantly, understands how damaging it can be not to have accurate and timely numbers. My go-to sponsor is always the Chief Financial Officer, as this is someone who’s rooted in numbers and data. Another benefit of having the CFO as your executive sponsor is that funding gets easier (in most cases).
This is the first time you bring your SMEs and executive sponsor(s) together in a room to define a set of measures that will become the organizational KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). This should happen as an organically guided conversation that starts with asking some basic questions:
This will allow you to tailor subsequent meetings and get your KPIs ironed out and cleanly defined. You should not exceed more than 15-20 KPIs and you should be sure to make them highly auditable and configurable to allow for agility.
I can’t stress this enough: a constant feedback loop will either make or break your project. Having recurring biweekly meetings with stakeholders to talk about the following will be the key to your success:
Showcase your work, even if it’s very basic, as this will allow you to receive constant input to ensure you haven’t misunderstood anything.
Too often we silo ourselves into thinking our current situation will be consistent with our future, and this is never the case. What needs to happen here is an effort by varying IT teams to perform a full-scale assessment of the current technology stack. The questions to ask here are:
All of these answers will help not just in creating a budget for the strategy, but also in preparing you for the future and any unforeseen company growth (this is a good problem to have). It’s a win-win really.
This is where having a team of SMEs will be incredibly beneficial. Use each SME to set-up and conduct interviews within their business group/pod to understand the following:
These answers will give you some incredible, in-depth knowledge on how other teams use data within the organization and will help you establish a working relationship with many cross-functional teams. These answers will also illuminate some of the innovative tactics teams implement to compensate for the lack of a reliable, timely and mature business intelligence technology stack.
Now for one of the most important decisions you will make throughout this entire process: Can we meet the business needs of tomorrow with the toolset we have today?
It’s definitely a loaded question, and you should think of breaking it into smaller issues such as:
All of these questions will help you create a robust strategy around the business intelligence stack that will help your organization mature from a data perspective.
Most organizations have a color-scheme, font preference, logo style, etc. – keep in mind that creating any deliverable report should be see as an extension of the organization. What I mean by this is, if you make a report or dashboard, spend a considerable amount of time on its look and feel.
For this design process, use the feedback loop we discussed in step three, and engage your SMEs. This will allow for easy adoption, as everyone wants to play with something that looks inviting and clean.
Take the two dashboards below as an example. Both are visually appealing and hold a vast amount of information. The difference is the one on the top is clearly organized, titled and tells a story. The one on the bottom may show more information but it’s cluttered, hard to follow, and feels overwhelming.
How different teams view you within the organization will help drive the success of your business intelligence strategy (I can’t stress enough how important it is for an organization to be comfortable with what you’ve delivered).
You can deliver everything you set out to – an easy to use, clean, on-brand BI system – and provide your team a training document for using it. But it’s really face-to-face training and engagement that will drive the conversation from, “Oh look, another new report and training document – how am I supposed to keep track of all the changes, and how does it even help me?” to “Look, the team has created a new report and are having a lunch-and-learn to take questions about how it pertains to our specific business need.”
While larger organization-wide lunch-and-learns are great, it’s also important to let your users know that they can also schedule smaller, pod-focused training sessions just for them. It creates a smaller group where individuals are less shy about asking more basic, but often critical questions, than they would be if they were in a larger group.
Create a Support and Communication Plan
Outline a simple mechanism for users to log tickets, ask questions, and raise concerns about auditability and validity of reports. Also plan for support outside of regular working hours – weekends, holidays, special events, etc.
Create a portal where your users can check their report status and look for new feature announcements. Having a robust communication plan will also help business users gain confidence. Communicate any outages, changes and enhancements — and always, always create an environment where feedback is not only appreciated but used as a mechanism for growth and maturity within the organization.
The best way to reward an executive sponsor is to deliver a report that you work on (in conjunction with them) that is highly visible, easily adoptable and quick-to-market.
This will buy you some much-needed confidence within your organization because it showcases not only your ability as a team but also your willingness to learn, adapt, change, work cross-functionally and be a strategic partner. It also validates your team as the experts in all things data.
Start small, crawl before you walk, walk before you run, and remember there isn’t a one-size fits all.
This is by far my favorite part of the strategy. There is a misconception that failure is bad. I mean yes, no one wants to fail; but if you aren’t failing often, you aren’t pushing hard enough. Create an environment that allows for failure because you’re pushing technology and concepts; only by being on that edge can you really do something truly innovative.
This isn’t an excuse to under deliver or be okay with imperfections – not at all. Instead, this is more a mindset for encouraging you to try new things, but also to learn and grow.
The reason I had success in my last tenure was because I was given the opportunity to be disruptive. In that process there were times when I failed hard and failed fast, but each failure created more insight and a more refined strategy.
The above guidelines can give you a starting point for organizing your business intelligence implementation strategy. Since there is no “one-size-fits-all” business intelligence strategy, these guidelines allow for a level of adaptability and personalization and can be adapted to fit your organizational and team needs.
As with any good framework, the goal is to bind tried and tested best practices into a model that helps effectively guide business intelligence strategy development. For questions on what business intelligence strategy would be best for your organization’s processes and objectives, be sure to connect with our business intelligence team today – we look forward to talking with you about how you can optimize your BI strategy.
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