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Increasing the Business Value of Business Intelligence

01 October, 2010 | Mark Mosely | Data Warehousing / Business Intelligence / Analytics

Organizations can find increased value in business intelligence and analytics efforts through the use of various data delivery strategies.

Introduction

Like many organizations, your company probably has invested significant time, effort, and money into establishing your data warehousing and business intelligence environment.  You’ve built the databases and the ETL programs to move, clean and integrate data from multiple sources into your data warehouse and data marts, and the data is available for query, reporting and analysis by business professionals.  Bravo for a job well done!  Now what do you do for an encore?

There may be a lot more you can do with the technology you already have in place.  Business intelligence tools support a full spectrum of data delivery vehicles, and most companies take advantage of only a sliver of these options.  As a result, most business intelligence environments are under-utilized, limiting the full business value of their organization’s business intelligence data.

Data Delivery Strategies for Improved Business Intelligence Success

If you have built it, but only a few users are coming, consider broadening the spectrum of data delivery strategies you offer using your existing business intelligence technology.

  • Training Is Essential!  The “self-service” model for business intelligence will not work without end user training.  However, very few users have time to attend the training courses offered by vendors, and few organizations today can afford the related travel costs.  Fortunately today’s web and video conferencing technology enables you to provide just-in-time training for users no matter where they live and work. You should structure short training sessions – 60-90 minutes is best, no more than half a day.  You know your users best – with a little creativity, you can provide focused training for specific skills and for specialized user communities.  Offer a variety of short courses over the web on a continuing basis.  Also, consider posting frequently asked questions (FAQs), demonstration videos, and user forums/blogs as part of the overall BI environment.  BI usage will increase quickly after successful training.
  • Report Library — Even with the best training, most business professionals are not going to use ad hoc query functions often enough to be very comfortable with “out of the box” ad hoc query capabilities.  While some users are content with just referencing standard reports run periodically, most users prefer to run simple “fill-in-the-blanks” parameter-driven reports in real time.  Whenever query needs can be anticipated and are recurring, add the report to your Report Library.  Consider how you organize the library and name the reports, so users can intuitively find the report they need.
  • Dimensional Analysis has proven to be enormously useful for informed decision-making.  Practically every user recognizes the value of business results across different dimensions and then drilling-down to contributing details.  Effective BI organizations publish “data cubes” of proven value as standard reports.  Presenting the results graphically using visualization tools is a powerful one-two punch.
  • Spreadsheets are the ubiquitous tool of our time.  Why spend time learning how to format reports in other tools when you can already know how to format reports using Excel?  Spreadsheets are not good data stores, but they are useful for reporting and analysis, and they are here to stay.  Do not fight them – instead, help users use them appropriately.  Users will appreciate your efforts to make downloading data to Excel easy and dependable for reporting.
  • Semantic Views — Those users who are motivated to learn how to create and run ad hoc queries depend on you to provide meaningful and easy to understand semantic views of the available data.  Time invested in making your query “universes” friendly is usually worthwhile.
  • Integrated Metadata — To whatever extent possible with your BI tool, integrate the metadata describing all data available for ad hoc query.  You may have to reword standard, official business definitions to take full advantage of limited space for metadata.  This is an appropriate place for colloquial language; do not waste precious space being proper or unduly precise.
  • Business Glossary — Because BI tools typically limit the space available for presenting metadata, consider publishing a more complete Business Data Glossary within your BI environment.  Perhaps your BI portal can link to web pages, spreadsheets, or word processing documents.  Publishing a Business Glossary could be a big “win” for you, and for reasonably little effort.
  • Dashboards — Most BI tools today support the delivery of management dashboards or scorecards that present multiple graphical reports depicting key performance indicators (KPIs).  Users typically can “drill-down” from a particular graph to the supporting detail.  Anyone who hasn’t yet implemented a management dashboard should definitely explore this capability.
  • Event-Driven “Alert” Reports are notifications issued when data values reach pre-defined thresholds and distributed automatically (usually via electronic mail).  This is a powerful but very under-utilized capability of most BI tools.  Even the discussions with business professionals to define alert reporting requirements will be of benefit to your organization.
  • BI Support — Consider also how to improve your support for BI use.  If your Help Desk provides Level One support, identify the most common issues and train Help Desk staff how to resolve a higher percentage of calls. On the other hand, your power users will greatly benefit from personal contact with your BI specialists. Consider forming a “SWAT” force of one or two specialists who can assist your staff on a moment’s notice with difficult queries.  Also, consider how you staff your BI specialists.  Perhaps you can reassign experienced power users or find former teachers who can put themselves in the shoes of your business users and effectively teach them how to find their answers.
  • Promotion – Be sure to publicize success stories and business results.  One good idea often leads to another, so let business users how their peers are succeeding.  If internal success stories are hard to come by, find examples from other organizations in your same industry.

Conclusion

Organizations making full usage of their “basic” BI technology should definitely explore expanding their BI tool suite to include “advanced analytics” tools for statistical analysis, data mining, predictive analysis, and scenario modeling.  Every company should consider “advanced analytics,” but be sure to evaluate how to get the fullest use possible out of your existing BI investment.

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