Business intelligence has rapidly proven to be a desirable addition to any company's operations — and with good reason. It's shown itself capable of delivering lower costs, smoother internal operations, and even improvements in overall strategic capability, all on the strength of better data sharing that gives every department access to the most complete picture of a business and its place in the industry. Not every business intelligence program is created equal, though, especially not when mid-market businesses are involved. Knowing some best practices in setting up a business intelligence program can, in turn, help businesses get the most out of this new tool.
How Can I Best Establish a Business Intelligence Program?
Setting up the best business intelligence programs requires attention to detail. The good news, according to Gartner's Kurt Schlegel, is that mid-market business intelligence already has one excellent role model: large enterprises.
Start with a plan.
Building the best business intelligence tool for your company begins with knowing what you want to get out of it. Business intelligence programs tend to identify the bulk of their problems during the execution phase. So by making sure your plan is straightforward and sufficiently detailed to make progress clear, many of the worst problems can be avoided. One good example is to start laying out dashboard mockups, so it's clear later what should and should not be included.
Strive for simplicity.
A great deal of business intelligence can be accomplished by delivering basic reports. But it can go a lot further than that, too. Tools such as predictive models or continuously-updating data streams can be put into play. For mid-market businesses, these may not always be necessary, so going with the simpler approach can be best. In fact, in some cases, a business may already have on hand everything needed for a proper business intelligence development.
Don't strive for perfection.
A newer business maxim is “Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.” Basically, that means don't try so hard to set up an airtight plan that it never actually goes anywhere. Business intelligence needs change often, and those who try to build the perfect plan will likely find out, to their dismay, that by the time the perfect plan is in play, it will no longer apply to current circumstances.
Determine the resources on hand.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but businesses may already have the rudiments of a business intelligence system in place. Many customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools already have reporting functions built in, and these can constitute a major part of an operating business intelligence program. A proper program may just be a few components away instead of needing to be built from the ground up.
Avoid the long-term plan trap.
Since business intelligence needs change so rapidly, trying to build a plan for the long-term is a sure path to failure. Planning for success in 3 years is way too long; a business intelligence program should start showing results within 3 months. If that means specifically planning for small, incremental improvements, don't be afraid to do so. Modest successes on a modest budget suggest that a major budget will result in major successes.
Keep updates in mind.
While you're planning for short-term results, be ready to follow those up with wider plans that adapt to current conditions. It's tempting to think of business intelligence as a one-and-done project, but that's a short-sighted approach that won't let you get the best out of business intelligence. Revisit your plans regularly to make adjustments, and even consider the use of a business intelligence competency center or a centralized team to make sure you're taking all the latest updates into account. Your needs for business intelligence will change, and so too will the processes required to achieve those goals. Be ready for those changes.
Use self-service where possible.
This is part of the simplicity argument, but the more service options you can put in the end user's hands, the better. Several business intelligence consulting operations suggest allowing the end user to create the reports desired, instead of relying on a business intelligence team or even an IT department.
Don't expect too much.
Many firms try to use business intelligence systems as a way to bring together separated systems. Some companies even try to beat problems with “ETL,” or “extract, transform, and load” tools, a process that might seem like a magical solution to problems, but that won't ultimately give the desired results. Instead, consider that the underlying architecture of IT as it's set up may be part of the problem. Data siloing is still an issue even now, and those little hoards of data are only helping their departments.
Get the right people.
This may seem like a tall order, but getting the right people involved in the development of business intelligence systems is vital toward its ultimate success. The best path to success here is to consider business intelligence to be a business project, but one with technical aspects to it. Getting just technical people involved may not provide the necessary perspective to build the system with its business interests in mind. So remember to invite technical people with a clear understanding of the business to help as well.
How Can I Get Help Setting Up a Business Intelligence Program?
If that sounds like a lot to take in, then don't worry. The best place to start getting the help you need is totalk to us at UTG. Our wide range of IT services, backup and disaster recovery, and other options can help you create a business intelligence program that delivers the benefits you'd expect. Get in touch with us, and let us help you make a smarter business with greater business intelligence.