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Essential Building Blocks of an Effective Self-Service BI Strategy

Asking the right questions builds a strong foundation for your BI strategy. PHOTO: Noah Wilke

Disruption, then wider adoption: that’s the result when Moore’s Law meets business intelligence (BI).

As BI implementations continue to drop in cost, enterprises increasingly rely on their own home-brewed BI solutions for internal use. As a result, today’s companies are confidently pursuing data driven decisions at a fraction of yesteryear’s BI budget.

But are they making better decisions? Certainly more enterprises now benefit from the wider availability of BI solutions, but there’s lots of room for error.

6 Critical Questions

When implemented correctly, BI can yield an ROI of $10.66 for every dollar spent. However, according to Gartner, over 70 percent of BI implementations fail to meet the anticipated business goals.

How do you fall on the side of the former and not on the latter? Asking the right questions can certainly tip the balance in your favor.

Do you have the right data sources?

Data is the lifeblood of business intelligence, and every modern business has at least a rudimentary strategy to collect and analyze relevant data. But data sources matter: reliable sources of data can spell the difference between success and failure.

These data sources are out there, and some of them are even free of charge. The internet can connect you to external data sources that can change the way you perceive your market, audience and your business workflow.

Business analytics software company Sisense can start you out with a handy list of free data sources. You can also check out Impact Analytix founder Jen Underwood’s database of favorite free data sources.

With these bottomless sources of data at your fingertips, all you need is the right BI software that can cross-reference them with your internal data to provide new insights.

Do you have the capability to warehouse your data properly?

Data warehouses serve as your company’s single-source repository for all the data you’ll collect from various sources, providing them as needed for analysis and report generation. But self-service BI tools can be hit-or-miss where consistently handling data is concerned.

You want to find a data warehousing solution that can efficiently store, curate and retrieve your data for analysis.

For cloud-based warehousing solutions, you’ll want to watch how well they manage and protect access to your data.

And you’ll want every stakeholder to be working from the same data warehouse, without sacrificing security. Balancing all these is harder than it looks.

What analytics solutions do you have on hand?

Organizations seeking to use their own BI infrastructure need to identify the analytics architecture that fits their needs best. But unwieldy datasets combined with a lack of process maturity can doom the effort before you even start.

BI solutions can ease the transition for companies by processing analytics on desktop-grade computers, using an easy-to-understand GUI that lets you drag and drop data to combine large data sets from multiple sources and formats. This means you do not necessarily need enterprise-grade hardware to do in-house data crunching.

How well does your BI solution integrate with existing platforms?

To implement enterprise-scale BI, your solution needs to effortlessly work with different information formats, processes, and systems that have already been established internally. If your spreadsheet apps, word processors and presentation software won’t play well with your selected BI solution, you’ll only spread frustration and dissension within the ranks.

So ask yourself the question above, with this addendum: will the required integration cost more in terms of effort and resources than you can afford?

Is your reporting mechanism both powerful and easy to understand?

Wrangling data is BI’s most consistent challenge. Most users can’t understand any of it beyond a simplified visualization. Decision makers might be fooled by powerful visualization tools, but “pretty” alone shouldn’t cut it: any reporting tool should be able to help people understand the data they need to do their work better.

Forget pretty, then. The important thing to ask is whether the reporting mechanism is useful in interpreting otherwise unintelligible data. Does it help your enterprise make better decisions? And is it easy enough to use to encourage more stakeholders to adopt its use?

Does your BI solution enable better compliance?

Where your BI solution directly impinges on relevant regulations (and you know it will), the solution should aid compliance, not hinder it.

A good BI solution should provide a means to audit and trace data and its sources, where necessary. Your end goal here is for your BI solution to provide and share critical information to all stakeholders, whether within or outside of your organization.

In this regard, data with regard to financial reports will need to be accurate and auditable lest you become liable to compliance violations and lawsuits.

Understanding Data Science

Data science is an evolving field of expertise, and even the professionals involved in this area of study tend to vary in their opinions and capabilities. What’s important is that you already consider the importance of data to your organization, and that you have the appropriate responses to the questions posed above.

Daan is a Cloud Computing, Web Security Expert and Blogger for Hire. His current interests include enterprise automation, cloud-based security and solutions.


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