A number of individuals posed the same question to me at recent TDWI and DCI conferences: "How do I know whether my organization is truly realizing the benefits from our investment in business intelligence (BI)?" In most cases, these individuals represent mid-size to large organizations that have created data warehouses and have deployed BI applications throughout their enterprise. Their investments of time, money and human resources have been significant and supported by the management teams of their respective organizations. The BI solutions are considered successful because they are functioning as specified by the business community. Yet, the questions about truly realizing the benefits from their investment persist within their organizations.
To address these questions, conduct a post-implementation assessment - it will identify, quantify and document the impact of the BI solution. Conducting a post-implementation assessment requires interviewing those who are using the BI solution to understand what they are doing differently as a result of the solution. Understanding how they are using the BI solution, and what they had to do to obtain information before the BI solution was made available, enables individuals to identify and understand the BI solution's impact. From my experience, the impact can range from automating and streamlining the process of obtaining and organizing relevant information to educating individuals on the activities of the organization. While quantifying some of the impacts can be accomplished rather easily, those impacts that require liberal assumptions should be described within the post-implementation assessment document in order to provide a comprehensive perspective of the impact of the BI solution.
There are several indicators that help to substantiate the benefits from a BI solution: evolution, efficiencies and enlightenment. These indicators highlight areas where investigation and analysis need to be performed within a post-implementation assessment.
One of the first indicators to examine is the organizational change that has occurred given the BI solution's usage. Ideally, everyone needing access to the BI solution attended training on how to use it and was educated on the context, meaning and business rules associated with it. Assuming that the training and education have been provided, are individuals using the BI solution once they have access to it? What incentives have been established to motivate individuals to use it, or penalties for those not using it? If there are no incentives or penalties, the motivation for individuals to change their behavior is left to the individual. Leaving it up to an individual is a tremendous leap of faith for an organization and dilutes the organization's ability to truly realize the benefits from its investments in BI. Some of our clients have established incentives such as recognizing or rewarding individuals who have effectively utilized their BI solution while others have established penalties that range from eliminating individual access to previously accessible data sources to not accepting any report unless it was generated by the BI solution.
To clarify the impact of the solution, reaching out to those individuals who are using it can be enlightening. How are they using it? What benefits has it provided? What enhancements can be made to increase its value? A survey or focus groups can do the trick, and the responses to these questions should provide you with a perspective of the usage and benefits of the BI solution.
For those who have access but are not using the BI solution, the first question to them is, "Why aren't you using it?" Their collective responses will indicate the need to refine the change management program for the BI solution in order to encourage or mandate its usage.
The benefits created from operational efficiencies span a broad value spectrum. On the low end is the automation of the data gathering process. The value remains low if the BI solution is merely used to extract data, which is then imported into a spreadsheet application for manipulation, formatting and presentation. The benefits are reduced to time savings because the BI solution is functioning as a user's data extraction tool.
Greater leverage of the investment occurs if the BI solution is used to present the information in a meaningful format for monitoring, analysis, reporting or decision-making purposes. For example, an individual creates a BI report and then shares that report with her colleagues. Her colleagues review the BI report and then make enhancements to the report to suit their own needs. This collaboration is facilitated through the BI application, which increases efficiency of information gathering and dissemination.
On the highest end of the value spectrum is when the BI solution is used to help individuals focus their energies and resources on priority activities. For example, BI solutions can provide individuals with timely key performance indicators (KPIs) associated with their roles and responsibilities. Instead of individuals trying to figure out where they need to focus their attention each day, the KPIs generated by the BI solution help them to focus on the important tasks.
Ideally, as individuals use the BI solution for monitoring, analysis, reporting and decision-making purposes, they are developing a better understanding of the operations and activities of the organization. They are becoming enlightened. The knowledge that they gain is based upon facts as opposed to "gut" reaction or prior experiences that may not be relevant. This enlightenment provides individuals with the ability to examine the activities of the organization and identify trends and areas where changes to business processes create greater efficiencies or opportunities. A good example of this is analyzing the procurement process in order to streamline it, consolidate purchasing and negotiate volume discounts from vendors. While analyzing information can enlighten individuals, the benefits really occur when individuals act upon that enlightenment.
Organizations that have truly realized benefits from their investment in BI are better positioned to align their strategic goals and objectives with their tactical initiatives. They can do this because they are able to monitor and measure their performance and evaluate the decisions that have been made. In addition, they have the information and mind-set to continuously seek improvement in their operations and how they conduct their business. Achieving this level of benefits requires an active change management program and periodic assessment of the usage of the BI solution. Organizations recognized for their world-class solutions in this field have achieved those benefits.
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