The budgets of many BI departments have become rather difficult to justify. There have even been doubts about the usefulness of BI investments. In this blog I describe how BI can focus more on their customers (ie, their business users) and demonstrate more clearly their usefulness to the company's business targets.
In my last blog (BI sci-fi or Market-orientated Business Intelligence) I outlined how the budgets of the BI departments of the bigger corporations have become rather difficult to justify and how there have even been doubts about the usefulness of BI investments. I put forward the idea that BI departments need to focus more on their customers (ie, their business users) to show their usefulness to the company's business targets. And that they have to adopt "market-orientated" behaviour and do their best to "sell" their products to their users. I concluded that I was describing a BI knowledge system built very like an "e-shop" which offered BI outputs to its users. But what's needed when we want to establish a smoothly functioning shop? That's what I hope to outline in this blog.
I'd argue that there are three minimum requirements that our BI e-shop needs to fulfill to be successful. The potential customers must know about it. When they visit they need to be met by an attractive environment and finally, there must be something of interest for them. Let me explain in more detail.
Potential customers must know about us
The adoption of a BI knowledge system must be accompanied by a good internal marketing campaign. At the beginning of the project you have to determine who are the groups of business users who will benefit from the system most. It's necessary to cooperate with representatives from these user groups during the adoption period and communicate with them regularly during the system's later operation. The BI e-shop has to be a visible part of the company's intranet and there needs to be frequent news about it there, talking about interesting features and new information. The e-shop management also needs to actively look for new customers. It should cooperate with top-management to identify new areas where the knowledge system can support the company's business targets, prepare the appropriate content and introduce new users to it.
The customer needs to be met by an attractive environment
The atmosphere of a shop is about the place and the people. From the point of view of a BI e-shop, I'd recommend a clear and simple structure, intuitive navigation with clear and well-designed infographics and text. "The shop-assistant", ie. person from the BI department, should be polite, to the point and without useless formality. The customers' views need to taken into account when developing the shop so it needs a defined and well-operated process for user-feedback. Customers should receive answers to their questions quickly and the e-shop management needs to monitor the moods and interests of customers, developing the system's content accordingly.
The customer has to find something of interest
The key ingredient and perhaps the most complex is the content. The BI e-shop always gets a lot of visitors during the pre-launch marketing campaign. People are curious. They come but if they don't find anything that interests them, they won't come back. So what's the ideal content for the shop? The BI knowledge system's main role is to make the outputs of the BI department easy to access and understandable. So it's important to identify which outputs are most discussed and most used. However, such outputs could be, for example, reports concerning the users' KPIs or other areas. Which makes things more complicated because to provide good documentation for reports you have to explain the terms used in them. There's also a smaller but important group of BI output consumers who need to know how the reports and terms are related to the underlying data. So it seems that in terms of content your BI knowledge system has to offer three things: a catalogue of reports, a dictionary of business terms and documentation for data objects. All these parts have to be linked together well, because the customer needs to have all the related information just a click away AND the knowledge system must not become obsolete and its operation must have an acceptable cost.
What's that? Now we're talking about updating it too? Well, I did say it was the most complex area. The system needs to update itself automatically according to changes in the reporting platform and DW (a manual "synchronisation" would be slow, error-prone and unbearably costly). There's also a huge benefit for users when the system not only shows explanations of BI outputs but also info about their current state as well (their operational metadata). This way the system tells its users not only "what the BI output is" but also "what state it is in now".
You can add many other things to the list that might attract users. For example: how to gain access to reports or to DW, what user training sessions the BI department is preparing or what BI projects are currently in progress and what their benefit for users will be, etc. That's all up to you, I've just tried to outline the basics. The important thing is to start focusing on your business users' needs and make their communication with the BI department as easy and simple as possible.
I'm going to conclude the blog with an overview of the "MUST HAVE"s we've identified as the most important while constructing BI knowledge systems for our clients over the last few years, along with screenshots to show how they're covered by our Company Encyclopaedia.
A well-chosen range of products
Simple and intuitive navigation of the Company Encyclopaedia
a catalogue of reports, a dictionary of business terms, documentation of data objects
being orientated to the business user means being interested in what people really need
customers are listened to and influence the further development of the knowledge system
The Data Quality state of a report in the Ency Report Catalogue is derived from the state of the underlying data
automated synchronisation of the knowledge system with the reporting platform and DW
info about the object's current state added to its factual documentation (not only "what it is" but also "what state it is in now")
An attractive and intuitive environment
Advanced search in the Semanta Encyclopaedia
content should be clear and simply structured, with intuitive navigation – less is more, do not overload the user
enrich the text with comprehensive symbols and infographics
a strong search engine (with search whisperer, good search parametrics and efficient tools to refine search results)
Understandable and accurate information
A good dictionary definition in the Ency Business Dictionary
not only should non-technicians be able to understand explanations, but also technicians should be able to find technical details easily
the creators of the information must be trained to write comprehensibly (a good description has an illustrative introduction, continues with details and is structured in such a way that it's clear what's for a specialist and what's for the wider public)
The instant availability of related information
The Semanta Nexus showing all of a report's relationships
the report documentation should be linked to relevant terms and data
more useful than a simple hyperlink is a relationship broken down into three pieces of data: source – target – type of relationship
a visualisation tool for depicting more complex relationships is also helpful
A question queue indicating questions which have been waiting an answer for a long time
the atmosphere of the BI knowledge system must encourage people to add their comments and questions publicly without shyness
prompt reaction to user feedback (a "thanks for your question" message within hours, a full and correct answer within days
polite but informal, brief but understandable replies
Good customer care
Share mail on report update
There are BI outputs (typically reports) which are so important to their business users that the users need to receive email notifications about every change to the output (info that the report was recalculated, warnings about problems etc.)
Some business users are interested in news from the BI department (for example news about BI projects related to reporting or DW, or news about new training sessions etc.)