Business Intelligence: Where Do I Start?

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whereToStartIn my role as a business intelligence software marketer, I correspond daily with IT, Finance, Sales and other corporate executives – expounding the value of my company’s business performance analytics for manufacturing and distribution businesses. Last week, the VP of Finance and IT of a major CPG company said something that stopped me in my tracks. “I get bombarded by my management team with so many requests for analytic tools that I don’t know where to start!”

Wow. That one simple comment put so much into perspective. More often than not decision makers know they need BI (and they need it BAD), but they don’t really know where to start or what business data they should be analyzing to improve the performance of their organizations. As a result, business intelligence projects often come to a halt ― if they even get started.

What questions do you want to answer with business analytics? How do you plan for BI? And what do you need to ensure the success of an analytics initiative?

Hopefully this blog post will shed some light on the matter.

Collaborate to identify the “hard” questions that need answering

If you are going to profit from using analytics in your business, you have to figure out which key questions analytics can bring answers to. One way to approach this is by getting a strong cross-functional team together to review the business and lay out all the questions that have traditionally been hard or elusive to answer. This will help put you in a good position to see whether vendor solutions can offer you answers that your traditional reporting tools haven’t been able to provide. Some business intelligence vendors have exclusive experience within select industries, too, and can provide clear-cut guidance on which metrics will matter most for your type of business. That in and of itself can save significant time, resources and dollars in both planning the analytics and reports you’ll need, and the best ways to get that information to key stakeholders both throughout and beyond your organization.

Make sure you have people onboard with strong business analytics backgrounds

Having the right talent to create a business analytics solution is a challenge for most companies because you can’t do much with a solution if you don’t know which questions to ask. People who designed batch reports in the past often find that business analytics demand more critical thinking. It’s far more than just summarizing the month’s sales results and comparing them to the same month last year. This situation has created greater demand in the IT job market for business analytics specialists. It is also why many business intelligence vendors offer consulting and training to help organizations develop business analytics skills. Some vendors even offer remote analytics services, assuming complete responsibility for creating and managing the business performance analytics and reports required by their clients.

Take advantage of your vendor’s best practices

Virtually every vendor has a set of best practices for its solutions that have been gleaned over the years. Take advantage of these best practices — and incorporate the ones that make good sense for your business into your own practices. Do be aware, though, that many BI providers (including ERP vendors with add-on BI offerings) often leave the creation and delivery of analytics and reports in the hands of outside consultants who deal with multiple business intelligence systems. As a result, these third-party consultants may have limited best practice expertise in the BI solution that you ultimately acquire or in dealing with your specific type of business and unique reporting requirements.

Don’t just convert your existing reports when you move to a business intelligence solution

Many of our new customers ask us right out of the gate to convert their current reports into analytics and reports that run on our solution. While it can certainly make sense to retain some of your key existing reports, the goal should be to leverage new reports that analyze information in different ways that will bring your company greater competitive and operational advantage. It usually doesn’t take long for users to see the real value of the new reports once they see the insights that can be provided by them!

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Anyone who’s been through an ERP implementation knows all too well the time and agony that’s typically involved in getting the system up-and-running across the business. Deploying a BI solution is quite different. It doesn’t have to be painful. You don’t need to create and deploy every imaginable report all at once – quite frankly, that’s just a recipe for failure! We always encourage a phased approach to BI ― prioritizing and rolling out analytics and reports to users in a strategic, very manageable way to ensure the long-term success of your analytics initiative. I discuss this in much more detail in my blog post: An Evolutionary Approach to BI. Happy reading and best wishes to you with your BI endeavors!

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This post was written by Pat Hennel