Business intelligence (BI) implementations should be kept as simple as possible, with achievable gains that can demonstrate measurable results in short periods of time.
Traditionally, projects undertaken by IT departments are monolithic, driven by the need to satisfy technology requirements and characterised by weeks of implementation, months of ironing out bugs and the absorption of millions of rand, only to be faced with user resistance at the end of it all.
However, business needs are different to those of the IT department and there is no reason a BI project should follow in the footsteps of its brethren. Rather, BI projects must be driven from a business perspective instead of a technology one. To be successful, the information produced through business intelligence must be usable and useful, no matter what format it is presented in.
Here are some tips to consider for achieving early wins with BI:
Set goals: Establish the goals of what the organisation wants to achieve from BI up-front. How it is aligned with organisational goals is important. There is no value in giving the right information to the right people if they do not know what to do with it.
Model: Understand the model the organisation will adopt and develop a framework around whatever is being modelled, be it financial reporting, human resources, or bringing external insight into the business. Do not neglect to develop the business model, as without it the implementation will fail. While you are at it, model the organisation's readiness for BI.
Plan: Develop a plan on how to execute the project in order to achieve quick, ongoing wins. The adoption plan is usually contrary to the monolithic projects IT departments implement. While a BI implementation may be extensive, the approach is different.
Also plan for scalability and flexibility. BI vendors are guilty of selling for power users. More and more, BI needs to deliver to everyone in the organisation and this makes application scalability increasingly important. The BI platform must be able to deliver on any type of analytical requirement now and in the future.
In terms of flexibility, BI means different things to different people. While management may warm to dashboards, operations people may desire reports. The solution must cover the breadth of usage it is delivering against, while still giving one version of the truth.
Analyse: Analysis is vital. Many BI solutions fall into disuse because the reason for their purchase is not achieved; promises not delivered on. It is vital to the success of the project to analyse whether BI is meeting the goals it was intended to or not, and why. This will allow the organisation to determine whether there needs to be a change of direction, where improvements to the project can be made by increasing or decreasing manpower and resources, or if the project must be scrapped and started all over again.
Measure productivity: Beware of analysis paralysis. Warning bells should ring if people are spending too much time analysing information and not doing their day-to-day jobs. All too often, organisations end up with elaborate, over-complicated systems, with a great amount of flash, graphs, cockpits, and graphics, and employees underperforming in their key performance areas.
Avoid technology lock-in: Do not get locked into one technology. Ensure the system can function on any operating system or any database.
Manage change: BI is not about giving information to people; rather it is about changing the way they work because of the information they have. It will expose everyone in the organisation to information they have never seen before, so change management is essential. People find it difficult to adapt to working in a different way when they have become so used to working in another; and if changing the working culture is not carefully and meticulously managed there will be trouble.
Understand that the failure of BI projects can usually be blamed on the lack of organisational readiness and willingness. Suddenly having information visibility throughout the company can be scary for some people, especially those who are used to being the owners and controllers of that information. They could feel their power is being usurped and without their buy-in the project is doomed to a rocky road, if not complete failure.
Report: Report back against corporate goals with confidence and make sure they align with what the company wants to achieve. Goals may change from year to year. Therefore, each time reporting is done, goals need to be realigned, and the next challenge set.
There should be no reason why introducing business intelligence into an organisation should involve massive aches and pains. Keeping it simple makes its introduction less painful and more beneficial to every user and the company as a whole. Take it one step at a time and keep it simple.