Business intelligence. It consistently ranks as one of the top priorities in various CIO and IT surveys. In January 2013, Gartner conducted an executive program survey of over 2,000 CIOs. I’ve listed the top 10 business and technology priorities from the survey below.
|Top 10 Business Priorities||Top 10 Technology Priorities|
SaaS = software as a service; IaaS = infrastructure as a service; PaaS = platform as a service
Source: Gartner Executive Programs (January 2013)
That said, it is a known fact that many business intelligence (BI) projects fail. Are you planning to implement a BI and analytics program? Maybe thinking of big data?
Here are a few lessons learned that will put you on the path to success:
- Ensure executive sponsorship from the start of your project. This may seem like a simple thing, but ensuring that the executives stand behind your project is critically important. Before the project starts, lay out the business plan, create budgets (operating/capital), document key stakeholders, and setup a governance structure. Keep these executives apprised of progress throughout and ensure they see the business value that you are providing.
- Understand your current software agreements – and choose the right software/database platform for your organization. Many people ask me – what is your favorite BI software/database platform? My answer is that is always depends. It depends on what contracts your company already has in place. It depends on the skills and expertise of your staff. It depends on the budget of your project. The net is that there are a variety of really good BI tools on the market. To name a few – Microsoft, Oracle, MicroStrategy, IBM, Teradata, etc. For a small scale rapid BI implementation, consider cloud-based tools such as Intuit’s Quickbase.
- Be inclusive during requirements gathering – don’t design in a bubble. IT departments often get frustrated with business users as they feel that they can get the technical solution in place much more quickly without the business users involvement. While this is probably true, if you don’t get critical buy-in from these business users – your initiative will ultimately fail. The business users need to understand that the system will support their needs and requirements. This is also critical when you get to the decommissioning phase (item #9 below).
- Employ a professional services team to help you. This is not necessary, but in my personal opinion, I feel that it is tremendously helpful. Your staff may or may not have dedicated time for the project. Bringing on a few technical consultants and a project manager can really help to drive the project forward. In addition, they hold an objective opinion and can help facilitate communication and decisions among departments.
- Don’t overlook security. Security is often over-engineered in BI projects. Please remember that BI projects don’t need to have ERP-level security. You may consider bringing the security up a notch in order to gain better performance. During your design, you may also identify that the users of the BI platform may be power-users by nature. The platform doesn’t have to be available to everyone. You may consider allowing a greater level of access to a few number of “power-users”. This will depend on your specific deployment, but make sure you plan to discuss security early in the project and don’t leave it as an afterthought.
- Document data definitions and ensure buy-in of that definition across groups. Data definitions can be the most challenging part of a successful BI project – particularly if you have multiple groups involved and they each have their own definition of one piece of data. This is a tedious process, but be diligent in working through definitions for your data and particularly for any calculated fields. You may consider software packages that help you to manage this workload (i.e. Informatica’s Business Glossary)
- Keep it simple for the end-user and consider a portal. Presentation is also important. In a recent implementation, I used Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 and its Team Site capability to disseminate reports and data by department. We used team sites for the various departments and a public site to bring all of the departments together. Consider building a portal similar to this for your end-users. This makes the report/analytics delivery seamless and easy. In an ever-growing mobile world, ensure that the portal is mobile capable. Your users will want to access data when on the go.
- Allow for collaboration, but in a controlled environment. Control the data model and only expose elements that have been approved by your data stewards. Allow for power-users to create their own reports, but do it in a controlled way. Expose approved data models to them. Keep the report creation controlled to departments so that you can keep the solution clean and tidy. You may even consider a workspace for the custom reports/analytics so that it can be separated from the standard content that is developed and available with the platform.
- Decommission old reporting solutions. During go-live, don’t forget to decommission the legacy reporting solutions. If you do not, people will continue to use them. Caution: if you decommission them, you’ll need executive sponsorship (item #1) and also assurance that you’ve captured the requirements from this system (item #3).
- Constantly innovate and evolve your new platform. Don’t let the platform go-live and become immediately stale. Engage the end-users and have a constant feedback loop established with them. Get them engaged to have them help you innovate and build additional content that will better serve their community. Hold a user-group for key power users so that they can collaborate and share lessons learned.