Don't believe the hype! Or, 7 ways to tune up your BI which really are different - part II.

How do you make your BI more contextual and business-person focused? Here are three more suggestions to try.

 

INTRODUCTION

Last week I talked about four ways to tune up your BI - a single access point, ensuring data quality & operational metadata, allowing collaboration, and enhancing your data. How many of you did your homework and read the blogs I linked to? Just kidding! :)

Those who read the blog will know that I was looking at alternative ways to leverage your BI, ways that will make your BI more contextual and business-person focused.

This week I'd like to continue this exploration. I've three final ideas that I believe add to and complement last week's. I'm not describing a fixed solution here - but I hope I'm describing a process that is able to build a "total" solution.

 

 

GOVERNANCE

Information a few clicks away

 

A couple of common business questions:

  • Who's responsible for this report?

  • Where does this information come from?

Every large company has to implement some kind of data governance, either for internal reasons or due to government regulations. Most will involve the implementation of one of the many regulatory governance models like Basel II. These, as well as the other internal strategy options, maintain the credibility of an organisation’s information by ensuring its quality, integrity and security, as well as the ability to both use and access it. They are complex, long-term, cross-company processes, which affect the mind-set and culture of an organisation as well as the way it conducts its business. 

Given this, the question for us to consider when looking to tune up our BI, is not whether a company will or should implement a governance regime but how? It can be done the hard, invasive way or it can be done simply and naturally. My first suggestion for tuning your BI in this blog is to create a system where the users are the stakeholders in the process, not the blind followers of remote instructions, and allow governance to flourish naturally.

Below are three blogs which outline the idea in more detail. However, if you've already implemented some of the ideas I mentioned in last week's blog then you're already on the right path. A single point of access (BI portal), a catalogue of all of a company's reports, a business dictionary (explaining a company's terms and jargon), as well as all of the other features talked about, all contribute to a BI system that encourages data governance to be adopted from the bottom up. Such a system will ensure that data governance is non-invasive and its rules and regulations will be understood and implemented by business users.

To find out about how to go about doing this, I recommend reading these blogs:

 

 

DEMAND MANAGEMENT

Without demand, there would be no supply.

 

A couple of common business questions:

  • I need a new YTD revenue report in Cognos, what should I do?

  • I need to add a column to the Customer's table in the Marketing data mart, how do I do it?

Many BI departments have effective systems to manage system deployment and report and data delivery - let's call them "supply" systems. On the other hand, the same departments will often have no management systems for their users' demands. Or, if they do, they're often unclear, ineffective or without proper governance. The consequences of this are problems for business and uncertainty for the business users (or "customers"). Some companies have implemented request management systems (like JIRA) to try to tackle the problem. While this is a great step forwards and can bring about better demand governance, it also brings with it a not insignificant problem. The complexity and difficulty of the entry requirements creates a high barrier to regular business-user take up.

This week's second tip to tuning up your BI is to take the bull by the horns and set up an easy-to-use demand-management system that can overcome these barriers.

The goal should be to have one single, clear point of contact, where users can add any idea, request or question they have, answer any question or escalate any request. The process needs to be clear and transparent - users should be able to see and follow the state/status of their inquiry- and it needs to be capable of reacting quickly. I don’t mean it's necessary to solve all requests instantly. But I do mean that it's important to open up communication lines with your users and allow a dialogue between him/her and the demand management manager (or analyst).

To sum up: any successful business model (and BI department) has to be built on the effective management of demand as well as supply, with as few barriers between the requester and the supplier as possible. Here are links to 3 blogs which I think explain it better than I can:

 

 

BI MARKETING

Show your business users how useful you are.

 

A couple of common business questions:

  • What exactly does BI do?

  • Why should we invest more in BI? The users aren't happy anyway.

Every department in every company has to continually demonstrate its business value to the decision makers to survive, BI departments are no different in that. However, if we accept that the BI budget is quite a significant item for company management and that BI is often a black box for regular business users (compared with other well-known departments, like marketing and accounting), we can see that the necessity to demonstrate its value and the difficulty in doing this is probably greater than for many other of the competing departments. Demonstrating value is a real challenge for BI - and it is one it has to face. 

How does BI become a well-known, accepted and popular department? Well, that's what my final tuning tip, or more accurately, tips, are about. If you are friendly, helpful and transparent to all your customers, ie. business users, the good word will spread automatically :). There are a number of steps you can take to do this and they're explored in detail in the blogs I link to below. However, let me list them for you in brief:

Start with the virtual environment the users interface with when contacting BI with their requests or looking for information. For a start, make it attractive. Secondly, make sure that the content is interesting and up-to-date and that the information it provides is structured clearly and according to your main use cases. Three - we talked about a single access point in last week's blog -  well, the space should provide users with an effective search feature. Four, offer users social features like ask or comment buttons so that they can discuss issues and give feedback and get answers quickly and easily. Five, listen to their requests (remember my demand management tips ;). Six, prepare a place where top-management can discus the BI team's outputs. Seven, set up a hall of fame to reward your most active users and contributors and motivate them. Finally, eight, prepare a strong and funny internal marketing campaign which will reach everybody in the company. 

In short: create a space that people will want to come back to, a space where they can find what they need, get what they want, cooperate with each other and feel great about :).

For more information, take a look at these blogs:

 

 

CONCLUSION

As I said last week, the important thing to keep in mind, is that these ideas aren't some kind of single implementation "total" solution. Our modern technological environment is too fluid and fast changing for any kind of permanent fixed solution to be viable. Instead, the ideas I've offered are part of a process. The aim of that process is liberating and enhancing the relationship between your company's data and the people who use it - the BI team and the company's business users. I hope you found at least a couple of them useful!