BI Solutions Introduction

The folks at Gleanster said it best in their Benchmark Report 2014: “When investing in technology, your evaluation process should account for how the offering fits your business needs, not the other way around.”

1. Can the solution pull data from multiple sources into one application?

BI Solutions

One of the key reasons top performing companies implement BI solutions is to allow executives to make more informed, data-driven decisions.  According to the Gleansight report, this was a top reason for 92% of top companies surveyed.

If your executives are looking to make more informed decisions, they need to be able to see all of the information the company has available, regardless of the source.  This will allow them to uncover hidden trends and make discoveries that drive growth and change that may have remained hidden if the solution hadn’t brought them together.

According to Gleanster, “The more that data extracted from different systems can be reconciled and rolled up into common data warehouses and data marts, the easier it is to do a cross-functional and cross-departmental analysis.”  In fact, 74% of top performers find that siloed or fragmented data is one of the most challenging aspects of business intelligence.

By selecting a BI solution that can consolidate data from multiple sources, you are making it easier to make informed business decisions based on cold hard facts.

A lot of the data you’ll need to consolidate is likely to be found in packaged applications such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), analytical tools like web analytics or social media marketing or in Excel spreadsheets.  Be sure that your BI strategy addresses these tools and ensure the solution you select can draw data from all of these sources.

Once you have your data in one system, you need to address how your business users will be able to access and filter that data to get the information and insights they need, which brings us to our second key question.

2. Will the solution let users self-serve?

Will the solution let users self-serve?

Now that you know whether your BI solution will make all of your data available, you need to find out how employees will be able to use it.  How intuitive is the interface for end users?  Are you free to navigate the data at will or are all the reports pre-defined?  How much freedom can be given to your power users to develop ad-hoc analysis?

Employees need to be able to frame their own hypotheses that can be tested within the BI system without passing all of their requests to the IT department.  BI’s function as a source of new business insights is hamstrung if users cannot pursue their own discoveries and create their own reports.

At a minimum, you want to make sure that any BI solution you select will allow business users to create dynamic dashboards and self-serve reports.  While you may want to set up safeguards for data security, quality and governance, you also want to take writing and rewriting reports, tweaking queries and building cubes off of your IT techs’ plates.

In addition to letting users create the reports they want, where they want them, 71% of top performers make BI dashboards and reports available on mobile devices.  If you select a BI solution that allows your business to create mobile applications to access live data and analysis, users will be able to achieve complete business visibility even if they are out of the office.

So let’s say you found a solution that not only puts all your data in one place but allows your users to access what they need when they need, where they need it.  You need to then make sure that they know what they’re doing, and that’s where a training plan comes in.

3. How much training do users need to become self-sufficient with this product?  What resources are there to help them train and continue to learn?

How much training does your BI solution need?

This one is actually a two-parter.  Training is an important factor in user adoption rates which are in turn an important factor in a successful BI project.  According to Gleanster, 79% of top performing companies using business intelligence software use the number of active users as a metric for measuring BI ROI while 62% use system usage (number of queries, dashboard views, etc.).

For the first part of this question, you want to consider the amount of training and technical competency required for users to be self-sufficient on the system.  This is going to vary depending not only on the system you choose but also on your employees’ levels of analytical skills and computer literacy as well as their willingness to learn.

The Gleanster study made a fantastic point about training: “Formal training sessions are cookie-cutter, they may merely teach BI features rather than how to use the tool in the organisation’s context…this contextual understanding is critical if line employees are going to learn how to frame hypotheses that can be tested within the BI system.”

By learning not only how to use the features and functions of your chosen BI solution, but learning how to use it in your organisation you will have a better chance at getting users to use and rely on the system for data-driven decisions and business improvements.

Once you know how much training your business users are likely to need, based on solution and competency, you can look for answers to part two of this question.  What resources are there for training and continuing education for this product?

Look for a BI platform with available resources for training and continuing education on the system.  What training does the provider offer?  What kind of community is there around helping existing and new users?  Are there solution partners you can rely on to help you with set up and support?  These are just a few of the training elements you should be considering when shortlisting solutions.

Ian Nicholson of BIReady in Australia hit the nail on the head in an article for Smart Data Collective: “In an ideal world, a good BI system will be simple and intuitive to use – and many are – but if your solution is more on the complex side, perhaps it is NOT safe to assume ‘the users will get it’.”

Never forget the importance of making sure your users are confident and capable when it comes to your business intelligence solution, and be sure to make initial training and continuing education a factor in your long-term strategy for BI.

4. Can this solution adapt and evolve alongside our long term plans?

How scalable is your BI solution?

Speaking of long-term plans, you want to make sure you look beyond your initial needs for BI and make sure you select a solution that can adapt and evolve alongside your long-term plans for business development.

BI projects must be seen as a journey, not a destination.  Without the flexibility to change, your solution will quickly become out-of-date and your users will stop using it.

Depending on your business, this may mean looking for a solution that allows you to create BI applications that users can enhance and extend as your business needs change.  59% of the top performers who responded to the Gleanster study have been using BI for more than five years.  You may not know right now what reports or visualisation you will need in five years’ time or even two years’ time.  Make sure that your solution of choice has the ability to handle future developments.

You can judge the suitability of a BI solution for future changes with a couple of follow up questions.  How scalable is the solution?  Will your growing database impact BI performance?  Does the provider have a plan for future developments such as a product roadmap?

By probing for more information about how the solution will affect your company’s development, you’ll be able to tell if it is right for your company both in the long and short term.

5. How long is it going to take for this solution to deliver results and help us meet objectives?

How long will a BI implementation take?

Speaking of the short term, the time it takes to implement a BI solution can have a weighty impact on your company.  One of the reasons business intelligence projects fail is because long delivery times stall projects, leading them to go over budget and deadline.

This question should help you find information on a couple of areas relating to both the BI implementation and usage.  First, you want to make sure that the solution can be implemented quickly.  This minimises disruption to your business and lowers the risk of a stalled or perpetually unfinished and unsatisfactory product.

Second, you want to find out how long it will take you to achieve the planned objectives and benefits of the BI project.  This will depend on the objectives and metrics of your specific company.  Some of the most common metrics among top performing companies are:

  • Financial metrics – has overall corporate performance improved alongside BI initiatives?
  • Employee performance and productivity – are employees more productive when they are not wasting time compiling reports or searching for information that’s available through the BI platform?
  • Operating margins – does aggregating disparate sources of information help with your operating margin analysis so your company can make data-driven decisions about company operations?

Once you know what the metrics are at your company you will have a better idea of what follow-up questions you need to ask to determine how long it will be before the BI solution starts providing tangible business value.

Conclusion

The answers to all of these questions are inextricably linked together.  You need all of your relevant data consolidated in one solution that your users are comfortably able to access and use as they need to.  It should be quick and easy to deploy to help you reach your goals sooner, but it should be adaptable in case those goals change.

Before you put a solution on your shortlist, you need to know:

  1. Will it consolidate all the necessary data from multiple sources?
  2. Will it let your users self-serve?
  3. What training and community resources are available for getting your users comfortable with the system?
  4. Can the solution adapt and change as your plans and goals change?
  5. How long will it take before the solution is up and running and delivering results?

If you have any questions about business intelligence solutions in general, or our BI offering, QlikView, in particular, please get in touch.

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