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7 BI Considerations for Midmarket Organizations

7 BI Considerations for Midmarket Organizations

Successful business Intelligence (BI) projects require many considerations and much planning. Many organizations focus most of their attention on the technology stack or on designing dashboards. The reality is that software projects require more than just design questions or general requirements gathering to create success. Companies need to look at BI for its potential and develop a project roadmap that deals with all of the components required for the project as opposed to only identifying business and technical requirements without the broader implications.

Many challenges seem similar within organizations but most will select their own unique approach based on experience with BI, corporate politics, technical infrastructure, etc. For instance, many organizations struggle with their data or do not have a good grasp on their customer base beyond simple sales metrics. Additionally, some projects fail because even though all of the requirements are gathered and the technology vetted, internal politics create roadblocks that cannot be overcome without a full re-evaluation of what individual stakeholder groups require for their BI initiatives. Consequently, organizations need to understand the broader impact BI can have on the business as a whole and what questions to ask before embarking on a broader BI project.

The questions identified below highlight some of the broader issues that should be addressed to support BI projects and ensure that aspects beyond BI infrastructure and metrics are not overlooked, supporting a more strategic initiative. These are not exhaustive but provide a good start for organizations evaluating their analytics strategy next steps:

1.  What are your limitations?

Every company has some set of limitations that may restrict them from achieving their goals. In some cases it might be budgetary, internal skill sets, or lack of a data center. Each of these limitations requires identification to make sure that solutions selected will not limit them further. For instance, more organizations are taking advantage of cloud BI due to the fact they don’t have the internal resources to deploy a large-scale BI project internally. Knowing the limitations that exist helps an organization develop a realistic approach to analytics and ensures that businesses develop the tools that best suit their needs.

2.  What business challenges exist?  

Not all BI projects are initiated because of a business pain. Sometimes organizations evaluate BI offerings due to a company-wide initiative but do not tie its use to a business pain (or pains) that exists. The “build it and they will come” theory doesn’t always work in an organization, and unless BI is tied to an issue being faced within the company, it will be difficult to justify the expense or gain quantitative value over time. Part of identifying business challenges means looking at what issues exist, how they overlap across departments, and what data in common exists to identify the appropriate starting points.

3.  Who are your primary business users? What is their experience with BI?  

Part of any successful BI initiative involves adoption. Making sure that business users can interact with tools and that it meets their expectations becomes essential for use. This means identifying the stakeholders who will be using tools and understanding the various levels of BI expertise that exist. It also requires an evaluation of how business and technical users will interact with these tools and what they hope to achieve. For example, do they require in-depth analyses or self-service data access?

4.  What data challenges exist?  

Organizations sometimes site lack of visibility or data quality as their key challenge to improving business performance. Understanding the gaps that exist within a data management strategy, or lack thereof, enables an organization to focus in on their immediate needs and address any gaps in visibility that exist. This might include the requirement to access new data sources, such as sensor data, or the ability to make sense of trends or patterns in performance without the ability to store historical data sets. Data challenges tend to be complicated because they have touch points throughout the BI lifecycle – acquisition, storage, transformation, and analysis – and require considerations in relation to each. Essentially this helps explain why the focus on data governance and ensuring data is managed effectively has become an important aspect of BI access and management.

5.  What are your competitors doing that you are not?  

Evaluating use cases and benchmarking industry standards can help organizations identify gaps and opportunities in their BI strategy. It can also help organizations make sure they are not overlooking anything essential and provide ideas that may not seem obvious. Although it is not always possible to mimic competitors or always the best course of action, the reality is that organizations need to have an understanding of what their competitors are doing to make sure they remain competitive over time. Additionally, this can provide a starting point for businesses to identify their next steps related to leveraging their data assets more effectively.

6.  How will BI be used to support organization success? 

The term “success” can be defined differently based on the goals and mission of the organization. Before embarking on a BI project, organizations need to identify their goals – is it to help increase sales? Identify supply chain inefficiencies?  Tying analytics to a business goal supports BI success and provides business sponsors a way to justify expenditures.

7.  Have we identified scalability issues to address future expansion?  

Many organizations select their solution based on their current needs and don’t give as much consideration to what they will require a few years down the road. The increase in data volumes and storage requirements mean that any project will grow as organizations try to identify trends over time, develop predictive models, and add more diverse data sets. Developing a solution based on current needs but not looking to the future can cause challenges related to data warehouse scalability, licensing, and business applications.

By understanding these seven areas, organizations can develop a proactive approach to BI adoption and look at how business implications will affect the current technical infrastructure and general analytics use. Even organizations with similar business challenges may have to address these pains differently. Companies, therefore, need to evaluate each project separately and not base software selection or platform choices on past projects. The ability to benchmark against industry competitors and look at how ideas generated by organizations with competitive advantage can be leveraged within BI applications can help businesses gain what they need through BI use.

Lyndsay Wise

Lyndsay Wise is the president and founder of Wise Analytics. Lyndsay has 15 years of IT experience in business systems analysis, software selection, and implementation of enterprise applications. She...

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