An 11-Step BI Roadmap For A Successful Business Intelligence Strategy

Odds are you know your business needs business intelligence (BI). Over the past 5 years,…

Odds are you know your business needs business intelligence (BI). Over the past 5 years, big data and BI became more than just data science buzzwords. Without real time insight into their data, businesses remain reactive, miss strategic growth opportunities, lose their competitive edge, fail to take advantage of cost savings options, don’t ensure customer satisfaction… the list goes on. In response to this increasing need for data analytics, business intelligence software have flooded the market. With the benefits being numerous and the costs of not having good BI growing, it is easy to want to quickly adopt a solution.

Unfortunately this approach could be disastrous. Investing in BI shouldn’t be taken lately. Whether you are starting from scratch, moving past spreadsheets, or looking to migrate to a new platform: you need a business intelligence strategy and roadmap in place. We previously discussed business intelligence for small business. Now we are going to take that a step further with the following 11 steps to a better business intelligence strategy. These steps are imperative for businesses, of all sizes, looking to successfully launch and manage their business intelligence.

What Is A Business Intelligence Strategy?

A business intelligence strategy refers to all the steps you undertake in order to implement business intelligence in your company. It goes all the way to diving in the BI process, defining the stakeholders and main actors, to assessing the situation, defining the goals and finding the performance indicators that will help you measure your efforts to achieve these goals. You define the strategy in terms of vision, organization, processes, architecture and solutions, and then draw a roadmap based on the assessment, the priority and the feasibility.

Business intelligence implementation is not an easy task, as it requires a lot of preparation work beforehand, gathers many different actors and will involve expenses. But the rewards outperform by far its costs, and it is well know that business intelligence ROI is real even if it is sometimes hard to quantify. The costs of not implementing it are more damaging especially in the long-term.

Why Do I Need One?

Applying business intelligence is important – but the way you do it matters just as much. This is why having a BI strategy is extremely important: no sailor ever threw their ship in the sea without a map, a telescope and a compass. Think of your strategy just as that: defining the steps on your BI roadmap, following your goals as a compass to stay in the right direction, and investing and using the right tools to get a deep view in your information and understand it.

Everyday a business’ information is increasing, and the amount of data dealt with and stored gets way out of proportion to treat it manually – adding on top of that all of the unstructured data that needs to be processed first in order to be understood and later used. It takes time and knowledge to make the best out of such asset, as well as a solid planification. The information a business gathers is filled with precious insights that will help it measure its performance, understand their customers, identify competitive advantages, and much more. A strategy will give your solution a direction, and a goal. Business intelligence without strategy might bring up some insights, it will not lead you where you want to head to.

Having a BI strategy in place before implementing – or just selecting – a system lets you find the perfect match for your needs. It will also facilitate and unclutter the decision-making process, which usually is the goal number one of BI.

The benefits of business intelligence are numerous and undeniable; now you just need to get there and reap them!

11 Steps on Your Business Intelligence Roadmap

1. Go into the process with eyes wide open

When you have the right business intelligence solution, it is easy to identify trends, pitfalls and opportunities early on. But implementing the right solution isn’t always easy. Actually, it usually isn’t. We are going to be honest here, even the best software needs some initial heavy lifting to maximize its potential. If you go in with the right mindset you will be prepared to address issues like complicated data problems, change management resistance, waning sponsorship, IT reluctance and user adoption challenges. Reminding stakeholders, and yourself, of the pain points that necessitated it will encourage the process forward. It will be worth it.

2. Determine stakeholder objectives

Odds are everyone at your organization could benefit from increased data access and insights. That doesn’t mean they are all key stakeholders. Right off the bat you must determine who your key stakeholders are. Then find out what they need: visible and vocal executive sponsorship is a must. Gathering and setting executive team expectations early is paramount. Then move past the executive team. They often don’t have the same front-line knowledge that other staff do. Collect and prioritize pain points and key performance indicators (KPIs) across the organization. They might not all make it into the initial rollout, but it is better to start big and roll back.

3. Choose a sponsor

While a business intelligence strategy should include multiple stakeholders, it is imperative to have a sponsor to spearhead the implementation. It may be tempting to place the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technical Officer (CTO). This is usually not the best approach. It should be sponsored by an executive who has bottom-line responsibility, a broad picture of the organization’s strategy and goals and knows how to translate the company mission into mission focused KPIs.

CFOs and CMOs are good fits. They can govern the implementation with a documented business case and be responsible for changes in scope. Of course, whoever the chosen sponsor is, they will need to be in constant communication with the CIO/CTO. Which brings us to the next step…

4. BI is not just a technology initiative

We are going to repeat ourselves a bit here. Because it is that important. To succeed, a deployment must have the support of key business areas, from the get-go. IT should be involved to ensure governance, knowledge transfer, data integrity, and the actual implementation. But every stakeholder and their respective business areas should also be involved throughout the process.

By involving a range of stakeholders you can ensure you cover the three broad classes of business intelligence users: strategic, tactical and operational. These different users types will need customized solutions. Understanding who will use the data and for what purposes can show the type of information needed and its frequency, and help guide your decision making.

The business as a whole must be willing to dedicate the necessary resources: staff, IT resources, costs, etc. BI implementation doesn’t just come out of the IT budget. The best business intelligence strategy lays out these resources in the beginning, with additional wiggle room.

5. Employ a Chief Data Officer (CDO)

Big data guru Bernard Marr wrote about The Rise of Chief Data Officers. In the article, he pointed to a pretty fascinating trend: “Experian has predicted that the CDO position will become a standard senior board level role by 2020, bringing the conversation around data gathering, management, optimization, and security to the C-level.” We love that data is moving permanently into the C-Suite. While, like the CIO, the CDO probably shouldn’t be the main sponsor for BI implementation: they (or a similar role) are a great key stakeholder to involve. They will also most likely own the project after the initial implementation is complete.

6. Assess the current situation

As we have already stated: usually a deployment isn’t quick or easy. There is a lot of work to do on the front end. One of the biggest sections on a business intelligence roadmap should be assessing the current situation. Now that you have all the right stakeholders at the table the next step is analyzing the current software stack, and the processes and organizational structures surrounding it (or lack thereof). Find out what is working, as you don’t want to totally scrap an already essential report or process. Find a way to integrate it into the new strategy, or you will have upset employees. On the flip side, document everything that isn’t working. What data analysis questions are you unable to currently answer? Which processes are inefficient or broken?

On top of all this you need to compile which data sources you currently have and how they are being stored. Decide which are necessary to your business intelligence strategy. This should also include creating a plan for data storage services. Are the data sources going to remain disparate? Or does building a data warehouse make sense for your organization?

As with all these steps, both IT and the various business stakeholders should be involved throughout this hefty step.

7. Clean the data

Clean data in, clean analytics out. It’s that simple. Cleaning your data may not be quite as simple, but it will ensure the success of your BI. It is crucial to guarantee a solid data quality management, as it will help you maintain the cleanest data possible for better operational activities and decision-making made relying on that data.

Indeed, every year low-quality data is estimated to cost over $9.7 million to American business only, as it impacts the bottom-line, the productivity and ultimately the overall ROI. Of course, one shouldn’t become overly obsessed with 100% pure data quality, as perfection doesn’t exists, and especially because the purpose is not to create subjective notions of what high quality data is or isn’t. The goal is to boost the ROI of your department – and any other – that are relying on this data.

8. Develop a “Data Dictionary”

With Agile development, extensive documentation has become a faux-pas. Large data dictionaries can be cumbersome and hard to keep updated. That said, for business intelligence to succeed there needs to be at least a consensus on data definitions and business calculations. The lack of agreement on definitions is a widespread problem in companies today. For example, finance and sales may define “gross margin” differently, leading to their numbers not matching. To nip this in the bud, get all the SMEs at the same table to hammer the definitions out. Then for knowledge transfer choose the repository, best suited for your organization, to host this information.

9. Identify key performance indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are measurable values that show how effectively a company is achieving their business objectives. They sit at the core of a good BI strategy. KPIs indicate areas businesses are on the right track and where improvements are needed. When implementing a BI strategy, it is crucial to consider the company’s individual strategy and align KPIs to company’s objectives. It may be tempting to create KPIs for everything. This can be a runaway train. It is best to start with the most important KPIs; then create standards and governance with KPI examples in mind. You can always expand on these later.

10. Choose the right tool / partner for your business

At step 10 we finally get to choosing a BI software/partner. Yes, you are this far along in your business intelligence roadmap and you don’t even have a tool yet. By preparing properly through steps 1-9 you will be best suited to find the right tool and implement it successfully. During this process you will need to choose and perform a cloud vs on-premise comparison. You also need to make sure to choose a solution that can start small but easily scale as your company and needs grow. Look for flexible solutions that address the needs of all your user. Take advantage of free trials, and don’t rush through this step!

11. Pursue a phased approach

Rome wasn’t built in a day: neither will your BI. A successful BI strategy takes an iterative approach. Think “actionable” and take baby steps. Choose a few KPIs and build a few business dashboards as examples. Gather feedback. Repeat again with new releases every few weeks. Continuously ask yourself what is working and what stakeholders are benefiting.

A good BI roadmap doesn’t have an end date. Your organization should be invested in it for the long term. You should be continually measuring and refining your processes, data and reports. Don’t let it become stagnate: continually raise the bar.

How To Create A Business Intelligence Strategy

As we have seen all along this article, there’s a lot to consider when you want to create and implement a new BI strategy. Let’s summarize here all that you need to think beforehand:

  • Assess the situation: analyze the organizational structure, processes and software stack – or the absence of such. Find out what is working and what isn’t, to save you time on already functioning processes. Ask yourself the right business questions and define the strategic goals you want to achieve.
  • Building the BI roadmap: establishing the steps to follow is like looking on your itinerary before hitting the road. You are aware of everything that will come up and more prepared in front of surprises and problems to handle.
  • Defining your team: from the head of BI to the business analyst to the developer, you need a solid team with clear roles that will be able to carry out the different tasks on your roadmap.
  • Organizing your BI system: the data warehouse, the data sources, the software drawing out insights… There’s a lot of thinking behind this that shouldn’t be neglected, as it will be your central tool to navigate your data and bring out insightful analytics. Once you know where you go and with whom, you shouldn’t pick the mount at random!
  • Get ready to hit the road, Jack! As one would say, you are now ready to rumble! You have all the keys in hands to start the first step of your roadmap and launch your new BI strategy. Good luck in your business intelligence implementation !

The power a strong BI strategy can bring to your business is compelling – if done correctly. With these 11 steps, your business intelligence roadmap may look a bit daunting; but without them you will end up with an even bigger headache. When done right, BI implementation is the gift that keeps giving. You just need to stick to your business intelligence strategy to get there.

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