In the past, Business Intelligence was a luxury only a privileged few could afford. It was meant for only those companies who could hire a dedicated IT team to setup and manage BI solutions. Today, BI tools have not only become very easy-to-use but also affordable. They have reached a point where anyone, even small & medium businesses, can take advantage of using BI in their company.
You’d imagine that this has leveled the playing field since SMBs can use the same tools as big enterprises. However, that’s not quite so. Different companies are seeing different results from their BI efforts. Some wield it as a competitive advantage – better decision-making and faster business growth. For others, it’s nothing more than a few charts on a dashboard – they’re able to see key numbers & trends but unable to get the true value of BI in their organization.
Why does this happen? Why do some organizations get better results that other when it comes to BI projects & initiatives?
Here are 5 ways you can maximize the value of BI projects in your organization:
1. Spread BI across your organization
Who uses BI in your organization? Is it only the senior management or a single-department? This is one of the most common problems I see today in most organizations. Business Intelligence is reserved for executives & managers, or for just one department such sales or marketing. As a result, one part of the organization isn’t aware of what’s going on in the other parts, and isn’t in a position to help them out, in case they’re in trouble.
Basically, BI tools enable companies to transform data into information. In today’s organizations where all departments are inter-dependent, almost everyone can benefit from more information. So organizations need to make BI assets such as reports, dashboards and data querying accessible to everyone, irrespective of their department.
This prevents departments from working in-silos, improves cross-department communication and fosters collaborative decision-making.
2. Provide Self-service component
Typically, this is how BI Reporting works in an organization. The end users specify the reports they need and wait for IT to build them. Based on IT’s workload, it can take a few days to even months. Every time the report needs to be modified or refreshed, the cycle repeats.
This can be frustrating for both the end-users as well IT. End users get frustrated due to slow turn around times. IT gets frustrated due to the endless cycles of reporting requests and customizations.
To maximize the value of BI in your organization, it’s essential to get rid of this reporting process. Organizations should enable end-users to access data and generate reports on their own, without depending on IT. Today’s business decisions are data-driven and you can’t expect all end users to queue upto the IT whenever they need information. This will only increase IT’s workload and eventually they’ll burn out.
3. Automate BI processes as much as you can
BI tools work on the principle of “garbage in, garbage out” meaning if you feed them bad (old or inaccurate) data, you’ll get bad insights. If you feed them good data, you’ll get good insights.
The most common problem with data is that it is not analysis-ready – not suitable to be used with BI tools. This is generally because they’re scattered across the organizations and present in various formats (spreadsheets, databases, flat files). To make the most out of your BI projects, organizations need to consolidate the various data sources and format them for their BI tool.
As a result, companies resort to manual tasks to organize their data. It means people manually extracting data into excel sheets, copy pasting rows into flat files, using ad-hoc queries to generate data cuts.
This process time-consuming and error-prone. It is estimated that 90% of excel spreadsheets contain errors. Would you be comfortable making business decisions based on such data?
To get the most out of BI, you must automate the process of data collection and data cleansing (removing erroneous data and formatting them) using the ETL features of your BI tools. This will save months of re-work and and improve the quality of insights.
4. Make BI accessible on all devices
We live in a mobile world. You can’t predict when or where users will need access to data. They may need it on their laptop for a team meeting in office. They may need it on their tablet while working a presentation when they’re at home. Or they may need it on their phone while they’re discussing with colleagues, on-the-go. If you want your BI to truly help your users, it must be omnipresent – available anywhere, anytime, on any device.
5. Leverage External Data Sources
Generally, organizations use BI tools to create reports and get insights over internal data. It’s used to track organizational KPIs and answer internal questions about sales trends, revenue, profitability, productivity, etc.
However, most businesses ignore the magic of external data sources. External data can provide a lot of context to your insights and improve decision-making.
For example, The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium used weather data along with their internal data (historical attendance and staffing) to predict staffing & attendance requirements. Their zoo attendance fluctuates based on weather conditions – goes down in bad weather, and up on a bright sunny day. This lowers their staffing requirements. When they combined historical weather data with attendance records, they discovered that they can predict attendance within the accuracy of a couple hundred visitors.
Now, imagine if you can combine your internal data with external customer data. You can identify potential target market, better understand customer behavior and preferences.
The possibilities are endless.
The above changes will enable you to transform your BI initiatives from simple reporting projects to actionable business intelligence that provides useful business insights to everyone in your organization and fuels decision-making.