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Business Intelligence?

March 16, 2010

Business intelligence (BI) is supposed to be about giving companies the tools they need to make intelligent decisions.  One thing that I have noticed is that companies rarely have a good understanding of what they really need out of BI software. 

This is why I was only slightly surprised when I read the following article: Data Warehousing and BI – still a long way to go.  The article states that: “Not a single company [surveyed] would rate their data warehousing and BI implementations as meeting all their requirements ‘very well’”

When it comes to BI there seems to be a rather large disconnect between what a company wants, what they need, and what most IT staffs deliver.  Why is this? Why is it so difficult to overcome?  I think that there are three main problems:

  • Lack of definition – This has two meanings.  First, a request for a new report is handed to the IT group without being fully thought through and looked with a strategic eye.  Second, the finished report is unclear and leaved the user with more questions than it answers.
  • Lack of communication – All too often something is handed off to IT and then returned back to the user once it is nearly done.   There is no collaboration during the development process.
  • Lack of understanding – Both management and the IT group fail to have a complete understanding of the company’s business model and what internal indicators are truly important to the company’s success.

 You see, BI is not about looking at the data.  BI is a set of tools that are used to track & analyze your business.  They are gauges that need to be used to measure success and failure.  BI is applying technology in a way that will enable businesses to make intelligent decisions.  It is about taking that data and having it presented it is a way that is meaningful, measurable, and understandable.  The problem is that no one seems to know where to start.  Unfortunately there is no cookie cutter solution.  Every situation and business is different and will have their own set of needs but there are still some basic guidelines that can be followed. 

  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of each aspect of your business.  I know this sounds obvious but this is absolutely essential.  If you make widgets it isn’t enough that you understand the manufacturing process, you must also understand the distribution and commerce sides of the business as well. 
  • Communicate that understanding to everyone involved in the planning, development, & deployment of your BI applications.
  • Make sure management and IT are working closely together.  BI needs to be a collaborative effort throughout the entire planning and development process.
  • Indentify and clearly define measurable performance indicators within your business.  In order to define a complete and effective set of performance indicators companies need to be sure that they can measure the indicators in a way that is both simple and practical.

The key to all this is to make sure you set clear goals and expectations and be able to communicate them clearly and effectively.  While the above list is very broad and generic it can serve as a solid starting point for your BI planning. 


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