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 has 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 businesses. Now we are going to take that a step further with the following 16 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 the process of implementing a BI system in your company. This includes defining the main stakeholders, assessing the situation, defining the goals, and finding the KPIs that will 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 known 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.
Benefits Of Implementing a BI Strategy
Applying business intelligence is important – but the way you do it matters just as much. This is why having a BI strategy roadmap 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 of your information and understand it.
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 goal number one of BI. Among other things, a structured enterprise business intelligence strategy is important to:
- Make informed strategic decisions: Now more than ever, the amount of business 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 assets, as well as a solid planification. The information a business gathers is filled with precious insights that will help it measure its performance, understand its customers, identify competitive advantages, and much more. A planned BI strategy will point your business in the right direction to meet its goals by making strategic decisions based on real-time data.
- Save time and money: Thinking carefully about a BI roadmap will not only help you make better strategic decisions but will also save your business time and money. For instance, by having an established budget and plan you will avoid spending extra money by shooting in the dark when it comes to important decisions such as choosing which features you will pay for in BI software. Simultaneously, you will be saving a great deal of time by thinking everything through in advance. As you will see in this post, a BI strategy is not easy to implement, but you will reap the benefits in no time.
- Improved risk management: Another great benefit from implementing a strategy for BI is risk management. By thinking every step through in advance you avoid finding yourself in difficult situations that can make you lose money and time. Additionally, you can also spot weaknesses in your process and tackle them immediately. More on this point later!
- Get a competitive advantage: Probably one of the most appealing benefits of business intelligence is the fact that it gives a competitive advantage. Taking the time to plan and organize an efficient BI strategy will skyrocket your business performance. In today’s crowded business environment, everyone wants to work with data. But is not just about investing in the first tool you see, a successful BI system is all about thinking ahead. If you follow the right path you will step away from your competitors in no time.
The benefits of business intelligence are numerous and undeniable; now you just need to get there and reap them! Let’s look at the top 16 steps to build a successful business intelligence roadmap.
16 Steps on Your Business Intelligence Roadmap
As mentioned above, there are many benefits from implementing a BI system in your company. Once you identified the potential behind it, it is time to start planning its application. When thinking about BI we are not only talking about choosing an online data analysis tool. There are several other steps that need to be taken to ensure success. In this section of the post, we are going to see a business intelligence strategy example consisting of 16 steps that are fundamental for a successful BI implementation. Let’s quick it off!
- Go into the process with eyes wide open
When you have the right BI solutions, it is easy to identify trends, pitfalls, and opportunities early on. But implementing the right tool 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.
- 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 does. 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 rollback.
- 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. This brings us to the next step…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 of 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.
- Define a budget
Once you have defined the current situation of the business, it is time to think about a budget. Developing an accurate budget is a key step in the process of building a successful business intelligence strategy. Budgeting allows you to smartly allocate your resources to make sure you have everything you need to kick it off. For example, as mentioned in a point above, you need to think about expenses such as hiring a Chief Data Officer, training instances for your employees, and of course about what kind of software or system you will choose to invest in.
When it comes to business intelligence tools, there are many options in the market that offer a range of BI features that enable companies of all sizes to leverage their data. In most cases, their pricing varies depending on the size of the company and its needs. This is why it is important to have a clear understanding of what your specific requirements are and how much money you have available before going on the search for one of these solutions. Like this, you will be able to compare vendors and choose the one that is best for you.
- Think of security, privacy, and compliance
Before going all-in with data collection, cleaning, and analysis, it is important to consider the topics of security, privacy, and most importantly, compliance. Businesses deal with massive amounts of data from their users that can be sensitive and needs to be protected. Massive data breaches are a constant topic of concern and it has led to the implementation of various legislations to regulate it. For this reason, implementing measures to stay compliant with data privacy regulations is a must when building your BI roadmap strategy.
In order to ensure privacy and protection, you also need to think about security. When dealing with big data sets choosing secure storage locations is key. But, making sure your data is secure doesn’t necessarily mean you are being compliant. While privacy and security are tight to each other, there are other ways in which data can be misused and you need to make sure you are carefully considering this when building your strategies.
For this purpose, you can think about a data governance strategy. Essentially, data governance is a collection of processes that ensure the efficient use of data. It establishes clear responsibilities when it comes to data management and it helps ensure quality and security. Here it is important to understand that a governance strategy will not help you make better decisions, but the right ones.
- 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 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 businesses 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 exist, 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.
- 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.
- Ensure data literacy
Paired to a well-thought data dictionary, another action you need to take to ensure your business intelligence strategy is successful is the democratization of data across the entire organization. Implementing a data-driven culture in your business can bring several benefits, but before you can reach this goal it is necessary to think about data literacy.
Gartner defines data literacy as “the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied, and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.” It basically means understanding and being able to work with data.
In order to ensure data literacy, you can first assess the level of knowledge of your employees. According to Gartner, a good starting point is to identify fluent and native data speakers that can serve as mediators for inexperienced groups. Then, you can look for areas where “communication barriers result in failing to use data to its full business potential” and use them as a baseline to improve. With all this information in hand, you can think about training opportunities such as workshops, seminars, and others.
- Identify key performance indicators (KPIs)
KPIs are measurable values that show how effectively a company is achieving its 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 the 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.
- Choose the right tool/partner for your business
At step 13 we finally get to choose 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 1-12 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!
- Rely on interactive data visualizations
Although it is not a specific step, using intuitive data visualizations still goes into the BI strategy framework as an important element to consider when choosing the right tool for your company. For decades now, data analytics has been considered a segregated task. People often think of numbers and infinite excel sheets that are almost impossible to understand. With this issue in mind, the BI industry has developed multiple solutions that rely on data visualizations to give a more friendly and intuitive approach to business analytics.
For instance, BI dashboard software such as datapine offers the possibility to generate interactive dashboards in real-time without the need for any technical knowledge. Like this, dashboards become invaluable tools for the efficient functioning of your BI strategy as they allow average users to stay connected with data for their decision-making process. Let’s see this with an example of a sales dashboard.
Working as a key element in a business intelligence reporting strategy, this sales dashboard is the perfect visual tool to understand the performance of the sales department. With metrics such as the number of sales, revenue, profit, and costs, c-level executives, managers, and sales VPs can get at a glance information about their goals completion and other relevant insights regarding their strategies. This dashboard can also be embedded into your system, making it easier for any relevant stakeholder to access the data.
- Think about possible roadblocks and find solutions
By now you should have a clear understanding of the processes and measures you need to take for the successful implementation of your business intelligence strategy. But, as with any other business scenario, it is not without problems. In order to avoid being caught by surprise, a good practice when building a BI roadmap is to think of possible roadblocks.
By identifying roadblocks such as employees training, data storage, or any others, you are capable of anticipating possible issues and facing them with efficient solutions. Of course, it is impossible to have a crystal ball to foresee all the problems that could arise along the way. However, it is possible to identify some potential drawbacks and apply risk management practices in advance.
- 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 with 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 about 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 at 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 your hands to start the first step of your roadmap and launch your new BI strategy. Good luck with your business intelligence implementation!
The power a strong BI strategy can bring to your business is compelling – if done correctly. With these 16 steps, our business intelligence roadmap example 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.