While a CIO and IT team may realize the value of a business intelligence implementation, those who reap the benefits (the end users) are probably in the dark as to why it is necessary for them put their own time and effort into the undertaking. It is necessary to show them how a BI project, done right, can uncover the information needed to facilitate and justify organizational change.

In order to acquire a budget for implementing BI and maximize the ROI, you must gain organizational support and maintain buy-in, especially from the business users. The IT department needs to take on an internal marketing role if it hopes to gain BI champions and see actionable results.

Here are five tips on how to generate buy-in and maximize your investment:

1. Set Clear Goals

When kicking off any IT project, you first need to determine how the technology can help your company. Set a meeting with a cross-sectional representation of the organization’s leaders to discuss what BI will accomplish in terms of business goals. Don’t fall into the trap of explaining the technology – convey how BI can drive the business and positively impact the bottom line.

The biggest problem companies face when kicking off a BI project is biting off more than they can chew. When setting goals, make sure they are specific and measurable. Come to a decision about what your measure of success will be when you have implemented the BI project. Recognize that while the goal to be smarter and make better decisions is an honest desire, it doesn’t fall into the category of measurable objectives. Instead, examples include:

  • Decrease time to market;
  • Uncover more cross-selling opportunities;
  • Reduce the number of defects on a manufacturing line by 10 percent; or
  • Reduce the number of days it takes to process expense reports.

Another important point to remember when setting goals is that strategic goals should be supported by tactical ones. For example, if your strategic goal is to lower expenses, your tactical goal should specify what each department – whether sales, manufacturing or HR – needs to do to achieve the desired results.
If you can’t determine measurable goals, that’s a danger sign that the BI project is not set up to be successful. It’s better to have smaller, measurable goals than larger goals that are not. People often say, “Don’t be afraid to think big,” but just as important, I say, “Don’t be afraid to think small.” A thousand small business improvements can add up to significant money saved, which is much better than one large, misdirected goal. It’s also much easier to sign off on a small, focused project, which once successful, can make getting approval for larger, more comprehensive solutions quicker and easier.

2. Don’t Forget about Deployment Pain Points

Once the goals are set, the next step is to identify the data needs from within and/or outside the organization to support those measurements and address your organizational pain points. Whether you’re looking to measure accounts receivable, staff productivity, revenue by sales channel or financial performance, you need to know how all of the data within your organization intersects in order to get the information you need. Every organization’s data needs are different, so to choose the right approach, you need to ask:

  • Where does the data we need reside, and how can we get access to it?
  • Who inside or outside the organization controls access to it?
  • Do we need real-time access to the data or is it sufficient to refresh the data at regular intervals?
  • Does the data already exist in an easy-to-access fashion?
  • Is any of the data sensitive or restricted by industry regulations?

It is also important to remember that pain points are not just organizational in nature; they’re also about deployment. In the process of securing buy-in for a BI project, you need to clearly understand the pain that’s going to be felt by implementing this solution and how to mitigate any disruption. Most people don’t want to face the time and hassle it takes to implement BI across an organization. So while a possible organizational problem may be that your costs are too high, the question that needs to be answered is, “What is the balance between the way we’re doing it now and the way we’re proposing to do it?” No matter how beneficial the solution, getting end users to change the way they currently work is always a major challenge.
As an example, we worked recently with a consumer goods company where the pain point was speeding up financial reporting. The company bought 400 copies of a traditional BI tool, but after three months, they did a study and found that only three or four people in the finance department were actually using it due to the difficulty of learning and using the product. The company knew what its organizational pain was, but realized too late what the deployment pain was for its users.

Therefore, it’s critical that you answer several questions as you move forward in your BI implementation plan:

  • How much time do we have for a rollout?
  • How much effort do we want this project to take?
  • Who will administer the project?
  • What kinds of demands will this project place on IT? On end users?
  • Will training cause pain and disruption for nontechnical people?
  • How difficult will it be to get users to give up their current tools/processes?

3. Take a Phased Approach

Since implementation hurdles can cripple a BI project, companies are often much more successful if they do not try to conquer an organization-wide rollout all at once. While an enterprise solution may bring loads of power and functionality to the table, it also brings the baggage of complexity, integration, time of implementation and administration – baggage that may be too much to deal with for many operational or tactical BI problems. Once you have approval to move forward with a BI project, start by rolling out your BI solution across one business unit at a time to ease the implementation process.

Many vendors have BI products ranging from individual desktop offerings all the way through department and enterprise levels. As opposed to jumping in and buying the full enterprise product, use the technology to first solve individual projects. Benefits will be gained at each phase, allowing you to share the initial results with other business units to demonstrate the power of BI and the potential for the whole organization.

4. Build Champions

No department is necessarily any better than another to begin BI implementation (although finance typically has more sophisticated information workers and more “BI ready” data in place). What’s important is starting with a business unit that can both benefit from the technology and has the internal resources to support it. On a tactical basis, for a BI product to succeed, you’ll need to not only have IT buy-in but also a champion for each department. This person needs to recognize the value of implementing a new approach and be able to lead the people within that business unit. A top-down, force-them-to-do-it approach seldom works. For example, a typical sales department may want better data to improve efficiency, but if department leaders are told from the top-down that BI is going to take a year to implement and a month for people to be trained, that’s clearly a nonstarter.

A great way to determine where to begin rollout is to follow the existing reports generated within an organization. Who’s generating them, reading them and acting on them? What are the key performance indicators in the reports being examined? Who’s requesting information? By following the paper trail, you can see where there is an opportunity for a particular business unit to work more efficiently and take advantage of BI. If reports aren’t being generated, then there’s likely little need for BI in that department.

5. Make it Visual

Finally, in marketing your BI project, you want to be able to give executives and other employees not only the tools to monitor, measure and manage the agreed-upon goals, but also an understanding of their impact.

Dashboards, which are frequently deployed to help executives better understand and manage business performance, are becoming the preferred method of delivering and displaying summarized BI to users. What makes information dashboards so useful? First and foremost, people are visual in nature. Dashboards contain visual metrics that enable users to quickly interpret and understand organizational and personal performance. That’s why dashboards are reducing or even replacing dependencies on traditional performance-measuring reports. Executives and other users like the distillation of large amounts of data into at-a-glance indicators, because it mirrors the way people naturally think.

The other benefit of dashboards is that they make it simple for any end user to understand and act on information with little or no training required. Since data is presented in a digestible and easy-to-use format, dashboards increase information relevance and streamline the decision-making process. Users see personalized and summarized information in a visual format and have drill-down capabilities to more detailed information. Dashboards also provide “at a glance” BI, so that end users don’t have to work to get the answers they need. The easier BI is to use and interpret, the higher the chances are that users will take advantage of it and the project will succeed.

A well-thought-out BI implementation with clear goals offers the opportunity to solve very real pain points within an organization. But to be successful, IT leaders need to build champions for their efforts within each department. A bottom-up, phased approach allows companies to get users up and running quickly and to prove results, as opposed to a top-down approach, which could take months or years. Also with the top-down approach, the people who need BI the most are usually the last to see it. So, put your marketing hat on and take the steps now to build the consensus you need.

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