Wednesday, 13 April 2011

5 Rules for Sucess in Business Intelligence

Factors preventing full BI benefits relate to experience, best practices

Business intelligence tools are designed to transform the raw data that companies collect from their various operations into useable information. The ultimate goal of BI technology is to allow enterprise to easily aggregate, manipulate and display data as actionable information. So why are many companies finding that only a small percentage of their employees are actually able to benefit from BI tools, while the rest of the organization remains "unintelligent"?  

There are many factors that can prevent an organization from realizing the full benefits of a BI solution. For the most part, these factors boil down to a lack of understanding of how people work and a lack of experience with BI software and its best practices. BI should enable companies to improve the way they do business - however in order to implement a solution effectively, companies must first take a step back and plan a tactical approach. Below are five rules to ensure successful BI implementation:

Rule #1: Understand the Users

Typically consumers of information in an organization are analogous to drivers of cars. Imagine:

  • Nontechnical business users as the drivers;
  • IT programmers or developers as the mechanics at the service station;
  • Business analysts as drivers capable of moderate maintenance, such as rotating the tires,
    changing the oil or checking the fluids; and
  • Power users as drivers capable of heavy maintenance on their own cars.

Most business users do not wish to seek out and analyze information, just as most drivers typically don't want to work on their cars. If you ask people capable of working on their own car how often they bring their car to a service station, you would find that at least half or more bring their cars in for service as needed. This directly correlates to analysts and power users in most organizations. Even though perfectly capable of producing and analyzing their own information, they often go to IT to get new reports and information.

This is related to their productivity and job definition. They don't necessarily think that spending two hours analyzing data is a good use of their time because it is not part of their day-to-day business processes. Even when given the tools to create their own reports, they still prefer information access to be an easy and noninvasive process.

As a result, nearly 90 percent or more of the business users in most organizations do not want to spend their time with BI tools to create, change or manipulate information. Almost everyone wants information to come to them as easily as starting and driving their cars - not fixing them.

Instead of selecting BI solutions that only a small percentage of an organization can use, companies should instead concentrate on building an information access and distribution infrastructure, using a bottom-up approach that satisfies the information requirements of the nontechnical business user first.

Rule #2: Use the Clicks Paradigm

The clicks paradigm is a simple way to understand and set the amount of effort required for a user to get information. There are five click levels for obtaining information, starting with zero. The more clicks it takes to reach the final result, the greater the effort. A company should spend the better part of their BI implementations ensuring that the vast majority of their users can receive information in two clicks or fewer.

Zero-click information finds you. No effort is required of the user to receive zero-click information because it is automatically sent to the user electronically, via e-mail to their desktop or to a wireless device. A one-click report is one where a user must log onto a system, find the particular report they wish to run, and select it to view its content. A two-click report, on the other hand, is one in which options are provided to the user for running the report.

Two-click reporting can satisfy most ambitions a user has for finding information. It is often referred to as "structured ad hoc reporting," since the user can change the parameters for the report before it is run. In three-click reporting, the concept of an end-user tool is introduced to that small portion of the audience who frequently has abstract information requests. Finally, an advanced power user can create four-click, or greater, information from scratch.

It makes far more sense to concentrate on building a comprehensive zero-, one- and two-click infrastructure before deploying three- and four-click tools. That way, everyone reaches some level of satisfaction with the simplest access.

Rule #3: Establish Advanced Users as Information Producers and Consumers

There are two reasons for this approach. First, IT developers are a very small minority within an organization, and as more people become included in the measurement process, they can quickly become inundated with requests for new information. Second, since IT developers are not primarily businesspeople, they cannot foresee all the kinds of information that will be needed by business users.

For these reasons, advanced users need to play a dual role as the cycle gets moving and a groundswell of requests for information begins to build. Already information consumers, advanced users must also use their BI tools to produce information that is contributed and shared with other nontechnical users within the cycle. Introducing this new class of information producers with business acumen balances the load of information production between advanced users and IT developers. Now we have a cycle that is developed and supported by a well-balanced community of information producers and consumers.

Rule #4: Establish a Culture of Measurement

If you believe the old adage, "What gets measured is what gets managed," then you need to establish measurement as a culture within your company. The easiest way to do this is to constantly communicate your business strategy to all information workers through such tactics as posting it on the corporate intranet or announcing it at company-wide meetings. Moreover, you should explain how your strategy will be "measured." By going public, you give individuals the motivation and ability to personally affect a measure that helps the company reach its goals.

Making employees accountable for achieving measures is also important. Holding back achievement bonuses for poor performance or rewarding bonuses for exemplary performance help establish a culture of measurement. If you think about it, every employee in an organization affects corporate strategic measures - from the staff worker to the executive.

So establishing a culture of measurement within an organization requires a continuous four-step process:

  • 1. Communicate corporate strategy to each information worker.
  • 2. Break down the strategy into clear measures of progress toward strategic goals.
  • 3. Continuously communicate and distribute group and individual measures to information workers.
  • 4. Reward and recognize employees for favorable or outstanding effects on a measured goal.

Rule #5: Make BI a Strategic Enterprise Decision

In order to make a sound purchase of BI tools, rather than tactical reasons or an individual unit's request, the entire organization must be considered. That way, an organization can be assured that the right questions are being asked and answered through the BI software. Additionally, it is important to purchase as few tools as necessary to get the answers you need.

Following these five rules will ensure the improvement of information access across the organization. When employees across the board - not just power users - feel empowered to find the information they need, the companies can become more intelligent as a whole.