Business intelligence (BI) is essential for business growth and competitive advantage, yet reaping benefits from BI requires more than implementing the technology that enables it. In fact, deploying the technology is the easiest part of any BI initiative, according to Boris Evelson, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Getting the personnel and processes portions right are much more challenging, he says. As such, organizations must addresses personnel and processes as key facets of their BI strategy if they want to be successful.
Following are 5 keys to a successful business intelligence strategy, according to several BI experts.
1. Give business ownership over BI
Organizations that place BI in the hands of business users have greater success rates than those who confine BI within IT, Evelson says. This may mean embedding BI within lines of business or having BI operations report to the chief digital officer or chief customer officer.
Although the complexities of early BI technologies put IT in charge of many BI programs, today’s tools are more intuitive, allowing them to go straight into the hands of business users who can run the queries that matter to them.
Similarly, the speed at which users need access to data and insights derived from BI has increased dramatically in recent years. Today’s business users often need actionable information in real time and cannot wait for IT to generate reports.
2. Monitor BI use and adjust as necessary
Although the business should own BI initiatives, IT must remain an active partner in monitoring and evaluating use of BI systems.
As Evelson explains: “Rather than putting up roadblocks, monitor what they’re doing, what data sources they’re accessing, what tools they are using and how they are using them, whether business unit A is using BI more than business unit B.”
In this way, he says, the CIO can set thresholds in partnership with business units. For instance, the CIO will know whether a few analysts in marketing have downloaded their own tool and are successfully using it, in which case it may be fine to leave them alone. Likewise, the CIO will notice when that BI application has seen an increasing number of users across business and has thus become an enterprise-grade environment and a mission-critical enterprise app that requires additional discipline and governance.
3. Validate, validate, validate
Organizations may be tempted to quickly spin out lots of BI capabilities, but quality outweighs quantity, says Chris Hagans, vice president of operations for WCI Consulting, a consultancy focused on BI.
“It’s better to have fewer things you trust than have a whole lot of things that are suspect,” he says.
As a result, organizations need a strong validation process that focuses on enabling access to all the data needed to answer queries. It should also prevent problematic data from entering the BI system so that it doesn’t produce faulty insights. In addition, the validation process should be agile enough to respond quickly to requests for new BI functions.
Hagans points to a hypothetical use case in which a BI tool generates reports on net sales figures. If that tool takes in data on sales but doesn’t figure in the number of sold items that are returned, then the end information is no good.
4. Focus on business problems first, then on data
Don’t take a build-it-and-they-will-come approach to BI initiatives, Evelson warns. Too many organizations build data repositories, lay BI on top and then expect business users to jump right in and play, he says.
“What works much better is a top-down approach, one that’s about business outcomes. We don’t start with ‘Where’s the data?’ We start with solving a business problem,” he says.
Evelson lays out this example: Marketing spots a customer churn problem and wants to understand why customers are leaving. The organization should focus on delivering the capability to answer marketing’s business question by first deciding what metrics need to be measured, accessing the data needed to calculate those metrics, and then enabling marketing to slice and dice the data.
5. Prioritize — and build in processes for improvement
A successful BI strategy anticipates both expansion and improvements, according to BI leaders.
As such, organizations should know what business insights they want and which ones are most important so IT can deliver what’s most critical to business users first and work its way through a priority list.
Moreover, the BI program should be able to shift as the priorities change.
Similarly, the BI strategy should build in processes to advance and improve how the system works. Evelson recommends an iterative approach, so that the BI tool can expand and improve as business units use it and determine where it meets their needs and where it doesn’t.
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