All BI managers want their users to adopt and benefit from their BI tools; but most companies today still have a long way to go to make business intelligence pervasive and a key driver of business value. As a matter of fact, user adoption of BI currently hovers at only 20% to 30%.
There are dozens of factors that contribute to user adoption of information. Some are technical, many are not. Over the years, though, Silvon has seen user adoption occur primarily from two fronts: when good information is present and is on a constant “quality journey” … and when consistent, quality information is delivered to users in ways they prefer most. For example, executives often prefer to reference data from a dashboard while analysts like to use analytical tools to search out a problem and dig into the detail of the exact same information that the executive saw.
CATERING TO USERS WITH DIFFERENT NEEDS & ABILITIES
If there is a common thread among the factors driving BI adoption, it’s knowing your business users—what they do, what information they need, and how they make decisions.
Users have different needs and abilities for consuming information. Often, they have different uses for the exact same information. And on the flipside, they may also require unique sets of data for their specific analytical needs. Many users like those who have relied on spreadsheets for years are also resistant to change, which is why so many BI applications today allow the ability for users to export and work with their data in Excel. Plus, today’s business users have evolving requirements in terms of the data they need and the way in which it’s provided to them. This is particularly true as users mature in their use of various BI tools and search for new and better ways to leverage their information.
Casual Users and Executive Dashboards
Casual users most often need a BI tool that gives them the information they need at a glance to monitor core processes and take immediate action. Executive dashboards fill this role perfectly. They are focused and tailored to each user’s role and processes, an actionable dashboard enables users to quickly view performance at a top level and then, if desired, drill to lower levels of data to identify the root cause of a problem. This ability to follow an issue to its cause makes a dashboard actionable: it not only tells users the problem, it prompts them to get more information by serving as a “gateway to more detail” before crafting a solution to address the issue.
Business Users and On-Line Analytics
Business users come in all kinds of shapes and sizes relative to their informational needs, so the BI solution you offer needs to be flexible enough to adapt to their requirements. The solution should provide to users “pull-based” access to their data. This includes both pre-defined and ad-hoc analyses, the ability to do both high-level to detail-level analyses and simple to complex reporting, visualizations and grids for effectively consuming the data, simple but powerful time controls and filtering, the ability to link directly to data sources, and simple access to data via mobile devices.
Distributed (or push-based) access to data is important for many users, too. Flash reporting and the automated distribution of daily, weekly or monthly report packets are just a few example of this type of information delivery option.
Alerts based on business rules are also critical for business users, allowing them to set and monitor targets and to generate notifications when their targets fall outside of acceptable ranges. The BI solution should also provide the security, simplicity and control needed by external users like supply chain partners with whom you may share your performance data to ensure optimal performance in meeting the needs of your customers.
FOSTERING A DATA QUALITY JOURNEY
Business users often won’t use a BI tool if they feel it delivers inaccurate or incomplete data. They will try to force BI managers to validate or reconcile the BI data with the other sources of data before they trust it, a laborious process that can take several months to accomplish. We all must realize, though, that data quality is a journey. As BI managers, we should encourage users to start using the data they have NOW and to understand that quality improvements come over time. And they need to know on a regular basis exactly where it stands in its journey. At Silvon, we often recommend that our customers break down their data quality solutions into localized and centralized versions to help streamline the cleansing process. Plus, solving quality issues prior to the data being collected instead of once it has been captured is a key strategic approach for many.
While many businesses dabble in various mashups of their data for BI use, Silvon has always been a proponent of the collection, coordination and delivery of information from a single data repository (or version of the truth). The repository stores all data transaction detail that has been extracted from multiple sources such as ERP, CRM, SCM, point-of-sale, etc. systems and is used to drive all of the ways in which information is eventually delivered to users. It also fosters data quality initiatives by serving as a core system of record while intermittent or new data is validated and ultimately included within the repository itself.
ARCHITECTING YOUR BI SOLUTION FOR BUSINESS USE
Architecting your business intelligence application for business use is key to helping improve user adoption of the information, as well. This means optimizing your data for analysis and reporting in terms that make sense to your users. Providing flexible and simple to control ways for your users to work with time is important, too. This includes the ability for them to leverage multiple calendars in their analysis of data, to do easy comparisons (e.g., the first x weeks regardless of when sales started or to look at activity for different day/week/month/ sets for different years/seasons side-by-side to review reoccurring promos, seasons, etc.) Plus, offering direct links to data sources can play a key role in getting users to adopt information more readily and to assess their information in far more detail.
PROMOTING INFORMATION ADOPTION
In the end, promoting the adoption of information by your users involves these 4 things:
- Make the information available to them sooner than later, in a format that’s optimized specifically for analysis and reporting.
- Commit to the “Quality Journey,” communicate it to your users, and keep constant track of it to ensure you’re on the right course.
- Offer different ways for users to gain access to the information they need.
- Continue to expand the value of your data by augmenting it with additional information and expanding its use in other areas of this business from an analytical perspective.