The other evening, my wife and I were putting our son to bed in our usual routine. After we read a story together, he said to her, “Mommy, you are my hero,” at which point both my wife and I exchanged “awwws.” Then, after a slight pause, he followed with “What does ‘hero’ mean?”
A child's innocence can be both humorous and thought-provoking. If we take this thought process to the business environment, we can draw parallels to some of the challenges that executives face when looking to add business value. BI solutions ultimately translate to better business performance and higher profits – at least that’s what executives hope. As the current business trend is to implement a BI solution, organizations expedite the implementation of “something cool,” hoping to stay ahead of their competition. Consequently, this “me, too” approach comes at a cost: Executives find that the solution is not providing ROI. Going back to my son’s thought process, the executive needs to understand what a BI solution is and what it can do for the organization before declaring it his or her “BI hero.”
From the executive’s perspective, the most important piece of this is realizing that the executive is not an endpoint consumer of BI; the executive is a driver and collaborator within the organization from the start. So what is the starting point, and what is the ending point? And what about the steps in between? Let’s look at the flow of processes that should be followed (pictured here or at right), what each of those phases is and what they will provide.
Identify the Business
Create a topology of the business functions within your organization, how they interact with each other and what the flow of business activities are. It may seem obvious, but you have to identify what your business is. You have to know all the moving parts of the machine. There may be departments or groups within your organization whose roles are only fully understood by a few of your staff. There may be new hires to the organization or new functionality may have been added to your business through mergers and acquisitions.
As business leaders and executives focus directly on their tasks, it is common for the organization to become compartmentalized. Gather as much information about your business as possible, including the inputs and outputs for each group, as well as their relationships and dependencies to each other and any external partners. The executive should drive initiatives to:
- Collect business metadata across all business functions.
- Identify the organization’s topology – an illustration can be worth a thousand words.
- Collaborate with business leaders on a unified goal.
Identify the Analysis
So the first phase was a fact-finding mission, and the second phase looks at how those facts can be useful to the executive. This is the “intelligence” in the BI exercise. Bring together the executives, the business leaders and your technologists to collaboratively assess and rank the information you have gathered. The expectations of the executive may not be in alignment with the business leaders (i.e., subject matter experts), and it is better to identify this now rather than at the end – a costly trap many businesses fall into. The executive should drive actions to:
- Define KPIs (short-term and long-term) across business functions.
- Know what information is or is not available. You may be able to derive the needed information in later phases.
- Identify gaps in capabilities of your current processes versus desired information reporting.
Find the Solution
It is normal practice to perform a “build versus buy” analysis when evaluating a solution. Although this is preferable when replacing an aging system, for the executive’s needs, a “buy” solution may be the best direction. The temptation to create a solution in-house based on spreadsheet analysis and charts may exist, but these tend to be owned by an individual. The risk is that when that person moves on, the knowledge of the solution moves on with them, and you are left with a stagnant, unsupported solution. Given the myriad solutions available, this phase can be daunting and possibly time-consuming for the executive.
In this phase, your technologists will do the initial analysis of available solutions and propose feasible solutions. They should be looking for a solution that is the best fit for your analytic and business needs. Together, you should review the marketplace and evaluate the three best candidates for your organization. Do not be swayed by whizbang effects. They may look good, but are they all flash and no substance? The best solution should be designed on a “form follows function” principle so when you strip away those nice reports, dashboards and other indicators, you are left with the complete business rule-driven data analysis. In the assessment, the executive should:
- Be aware that the solution may not completely fit your needs. Conversely, there may be beneficial features you hadn’t considered.
- Promote the strengths of the BI solutions. Do not try to rewrite the solution to perform in a different way.
- Let business leaders select the solution, and let the technologists lead implementation.
Implement the Solution
Momentum is important at this phase, so ensure that your organization works closely with the solution vendor during implementation. Expedite any hardware or software needs (e.g., technology upgrades, infrastructure, etc.). Although your day-to-day business activities still need to continue, this implementation should be treated as a “production” activity and not as a “lunchtime” activity.
Introducing change within an organization is always challenging. To aid in the transition, ensure training is provided to staff to allow them to embrace this new solution, regardless of their involvement in delivery. As with any implementation, set dates for the delivery and ensure task owners are working toward those dates. The executive should:
- Work with your technologists to ensure dedicated resources.
- Document every business decision captured in the configuration of the solution.
- Conduct walkthrough sessions of the solution withbusiness leaders and their staff to promote how the solution will be used.
Use the Solution Effectively
The solution has been implemented, data points are collected, analysis is performed and the executive is now aided in business decision-making. Will the executive still feel empowered after a month? At the end of a quarter? How about after a fiscal year? Do not assume that the work is finished once the solution is implemented. Consider the post-implementation period as a warranty period. Define progress checkpoints and have the executives and business leaders evaluate how their needs are being met. Perhaps facets of the solution are not meeting your business needs. Adjust the solution to meet the needs of the executive (documenting all changes, of course). The executive should:
- Encourage feedback from business leaders, departments, partners and other executives.
- Define when, what and to whom the output from the solution will be delivered.
- Set thresholds on the output from the solution. Ensure the documentation of identifiable actions that will be triggered from your alerts.
As you go through these phases you will gain a better understanding of your organization, and so will your staff. It is often forgotten that the organization is made up of many moving parts with specific tasks, all working together to provide a solution – for your customers. By bringing BI back to the executive, you will empower your business to work smarter and more effectively. You will have found your true “hero” and only then will you understand the powers of BI.