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How Can BI Be Made More Useful for Business Decision Makers?

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As Dan Kusnetzky writes on this blog on ZDNet, Panorama a New Vision for Business Intelligence, "The bottom line is that business decision makers are often too busy to take time to learn complex business intelligence tools and so they ring IT when they need something." So how can BI be made more useful for the business decision makers?

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  • There are numerous companies in India that have people with MBA, Masters in Statistics, etc downloading huge volumes of Point of Sale Data or any other large volume of specific data that is collected and then analyzing them for interesting patterns. Like Dove Soap suddenly doing very well among males, 40 to 60 years of age in the SouthWest of the U.S (Just an example - not a real case). They then write a report on this and send it across to their clients.

    In spite of strides in Data Mining, a large part of useful data mining is still manual. BI companies could do very well to make Data Mining much more practical and automatic - ahead of time they can specify which kinds of insights could be useful to them and the software should do some sort of "Pre-Guided Data Mining" so that the Business Intelligence collected sprouts Intelligence automatically. Business users love this since thay may not have the time or inclination to do this themselves.

  • A million dollar question to which any answer is bound to fall short of (business user) expectations. Anyway, here goes my 2 cents answer:

    1) BI should be linked to business goals - Any metric, any report, any analytical component should be linked to business outcomes. A strategy map is a handy framework to accomplish this task.

    2) BI should provide a view of past, present & future because business decision makers need all of them. BI Architecture should enable all 3 types of analytics:

    a) How have we done in the past? - Reports, Ad-hoc analytics etc.
    b) What can we do differently right now? - Closed loop system that provides for actionable BI
    c) Show me what the future is like? - Predictive Analytics, Simulated models etc.

    3) BI systems should provide user intefaces & visualizations that are Intuitive, Elegant, Functional & Simple to Use. (Can we check with Steve Jobs, please!)

    4) BI should be made available at the right time (Push & Pull modes) on a variety of form factors and more importantly with accurate information (Bad Data = BI system that no one wants to use)

    5) BI systems should be marketed to the business community. Business users ought to be told constantly 'Where to find the analytical components' and 'What will they get once they reach that location' (Did I say Business Metadata?). The IT team should not make the mistake of assuming that once something gets built, people will use it.

  • I agree with Karthikeyan's comment that BI should be linked to business goals. I'd take that a step further to add that it is important to make the data seamless with currently used tools so it fits into the workflow across various departments and can be acted upon.

    An example of this can be seen in my company's CodeArmor Intelligence product. It is a targeted BI product (it collects and reports on data of software license infringement so software vendors can recover lost revenue).

    End users can review their data in a Force.com dashboard (that can also be integrated into their existing Salesforce.com CRM implementation) and leverage reports and filtering to make data-driven decisions about which companies to pursue first and which geographical regions require more attention.

    By integrating BI into existing tools that are more closely tied to user's jobs/goals BI becomes easier to use and more relevant to business users.

    Michael Goff
    V.i. Labs

  • I agree with some of the comments above. I think the point of the Panorama blog was that they developed an intuitive self service BI environment.

    However, the decision maker is often not the analyst. They tend to be consumers of data so easy to use is only part of the puzzle.

    They need proactive alerts, reporting accessible from any device, able to access shared analysis developed by their analyst so that they can be prompted into decision making.

    So easy to use, shared and device independent would be my top 3 items.

  • To achieve maximum efficacy with any change to an enterprise, we need to consider people and process along with technology changes. We can have the best BI tool that works even in our shiny new iPad. But if the individuals who need to use it daily find the interface clumsy or the data irrelevant they will retire it to the shelf. So to address the "people", we need to consider the UI as well as the data relevancy. We also need to consider how BI works into existing work processes. It should flow naturally and create value or eliminate waste within the workflow.

    Another aspect of the process is around IT performing the work. Assuming an organization has implemented BI appropriately with the right processes integration and UI engineering, IT could simply stop doing reporting work. Forcing self-service is sometimes necessary to driving down unneeded OpEx. Sure, there will be some screaming and yelling. But if the BI experience is engineered correctly, IT will score a win and the business will be empowered with the tools they need to succeed.

  • One question that I don't think is asked enough of BI users is “if you had this report/graphic/Dashboard – what would you do with it?’ It seems such a logical question but many times it is never asked. It can be one of the most informative lead in question for both BI end user and the BI developer to discuss. Some other quick hits to check.

    -Agree on the purpose and goals before you choice the technology

    -Bring end users in the design and prototype process early and often

    -Support self service, experimentation and self training

    -Allow end users the ability to create data navigation and work-flows that adapt to their own established process

    -Agree on data definitions - who’s single version of the truth will be THE version of the truth

    -Validate/improve data quality – continuously

  • in addition, BI should have good reporting capabilities because it's important to be able to share your findings. For example sharing of dashboards should be facilitated and exporting data or images should be made easy for the user.

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