What Your Business Intelligence Strategy Should Really Look Like

  • Ed Thompson, CTO
  • April 9, 2014

What your business intelligence strategy should really look likeThe chances are, you’ve got a business intelligence strategy. Heck, this is 2014: what business doesn’t have a business intelligence strategy? Even if that business intelligence strategy involves little more than a decision to stay with your existing provider, or finally making the move to a data warehouse.

But it’s precisely that provider-centric and technology-centric focus that is what is wrong with most business intelligence strategies.

Because a business intelligence strategy really ought to be about how best to use business intelligence, and not about the nuts and bolts of the associated technology, or who to buy it from.

So why don’t more businesses view their business intelligence strategy this way? Because it’s difficult, frankly.

And why? Because it’s easier to make decisions about technologies and providers than it is to seriously evaluate what the business needs by way of business intelligence, and then decide how individuals can and should access that business intelligence.

So with that in mind, here are some pointers to help.

Business intelligence strategy: reporting bottlenecks

Reports aren’t the most exciting aspect of business intelligence, to be sure. Executive dashboards and other fancy tools are much more glamorous. But users — top executives and ordinary employees alike — love their reports. And for that reason, no business intelligence strategy can ignore them.

So consequently, your business intelligence strategy should consider such issues as:

• Eliminating report-writing bottlenecks, through the use of self-serve reporting.

• Eliminating report production bottlenecks, by running reports against a data warehouse, not the live database.

• Eliminating report distribution constraints, through the use of PDF documents as well as paper reports, ‘subscriptions’, automated e-mail distribution, and so on.

Business intelligence strategy: analytics and visualisations

Reports are great, but they have their limitations. Most notably, they make it difficult for users to discover new insights.

In other words, it’s very difficult to work through a report and have one of those “Aha!” moments — principally because reports are chiefly a one-dimensional representation of facts. New insights come when two or more dimensions of data are superimposed on each other, allowing links and correlations to be seen.

But how? This is where your business intelligence strategy comes in. Key questions to ask:

• Are we making it as easy as possible for users to drill down and discover causal factors? And do users have the tools and training to do this?

• Are we making as much use as we could of visualisations? Charts or other graphics are not only far easier to interpret than a column of figures or table, they’re also much better at displaying trends.

• Is there a role for advanced analytics? And do we have users skilled enough in deploying such tools?

Business intelligence strategy: changing technology

There’s no doubt that the enterprise computing landscape has changed hugely in the last few years. But has your business intelligence strategy kept up?

The answer, if you’re honest, is ‘probably not’. Particularly with the budgetary constraints imposed by the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession.

Your business intelligence strategy could address this, by:

• Encouraging the greater use of executive dashboards, to aid managers by providing quick ‘situational awareness’ and a drill-down capability.

• Looking at mobile deployment — not just for users working outside the four walls of the enterprise, but inside (on the factory floor, say) via low-cost tablet computers.

• Making use of ready-made Excel integration tools — which are always popular with finance staff!

• Driving down the cost of business intelligence, by moving to a Cloud-based ‘pay as you go’ business intelligence solution, rather than a ‘pay upfront’, capital expenditure-based on-premise business intelligence solution.

Business intelligence strategy: the bottom line

These questions and issues for considerations, you’ll agree, aren’t rocket science. In fact, they’re fairly straightforward.

But they’re absolutely fundamental to how your business makes use of business intelligence — and in our view, far more sensible than the technology-choice and vendor-choice deliberations that often pass for a business intelligence strategy.

That sort of business intelligence strategy, we believe, is no longer fit-for-purpose.

So is your business intelligence strategy fit-for-purpose?

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