Building an Analytics Vision and Roadmap
Short and long-term considerations in selecting a Business Intelligence platform.
By: Jerry Endlich. President, Sterling Technology Group
Our team gets asked all the time by our clients or prospective clients, “How do we select and deploy the right Business Intelligence (BI) platform for our organization?” On the surface, that may seem like a straight-forward question for us to answer, as there are several BI products in the market that provide a host of standard reporting and dashboard features. So if an organization does have a well thought-out BI Roadmap it may seem simple to just evaluate short and longer term needs, then correlate those to the various products in the market. From there, they can purchase the product and deploy it.
But many times, companies do not have a clear vision of how an enhanced analytics platform can benefit their organization. More important, many do know what a true Enterprise BI platform can do for them over the long haul. Thus, many decision-makers when starting out tend to pigeonhole themselves into a single-capability/single-function tool that provides only immediate and short-term benefits.
How to move forward after phase 1?
The challenge with this approach is that once an organization masters the initial tool, they tend to look at expanding their BI capabilities, typically within a few short months. For example, many clients start off by just focusing on standard or operational reporting. These are reports that users can either logon to a portal to run real-time or reporting platforms that can automatically distribute content to users, at (for example) the close of each week or month. Of courses this is a great starting point, and provides quite a bit of value to an organization that may have struggled with time-consuming Excel based reporting in the past. There is certainly a strong ROI if a such a solution replaces hours and hours of manual data gathering and manual emailing of reports.
What are the challenges with this approach? Well maybe none, or..
Maybe there are several challenges that a company should consider when starting their BI journey and building their BI roadmap. Our firm, for many initial stage projects is asked to build the type of operational reports mentioned above. We do it, deploy it and our clients love them, the users love them, and the people that were handling the Excel distribution loves them (because they can now focus on more important things related to their
roles and responsibilities). It’s a win-win scenario as we hopefully look good with our delivery, and the client has now gained a valuable ROI.
So what’s next?
Well, that depends on the vision of the organization as it relates to BI and Analytics. Many times, as a next step we assist in helping clients understand what that vision can include. And that’s where having a client understand the value of an Enterprise BI solution and a BI Roadmap comes into play.
Back to our example above. Month 1 and 2, a client deploys a series of operational reports to their Finance team. Great, the team receives the reports real-time via a simple-to-use portal (or via automation), they don’t have to ask IT for them anymore and the numbers are accurate!
Seems perfect…but many times, this is what we hear next..
"Well, the reports are great, but we would love to have some features that allow us to slice and dice the data ourselves on the fly”. Or,
“We need to present Dashboards to our Senior Management with a few simple to understand, interactive charts and graphs that show our data in different formats.. for example, charts with year-to-date information for our Top 10 products or customers”. Or,
“We would like to include some Forecasting with our data and share that with other users real-time”. Or,
“I need to bring some new data into our reports, how can I do that?”.
These are fair requests, and we have heard them many times from our clients. So, what is the answer?
The true answer is that although many organizations do only focus on their immediate need, they maybe should have considered their roadmap and vision of BI. When we have these discussions with our clients, we really try to make the conversation about short-term impact and long-term analytic aspirations. Almost all the time we mention several key BI Pillars to consider when starting a journey with analytics. These may include:
Pixel-perfect Reporting. As discussed above. The core of any BI platform should include great looking, top-tier operational reports. This includes prompt-based, real-time reports, and reports that can be auto-distributed to users (e.g. at the close of a month or week).
Highly Visual, simple to use Interactive Dashboards. Users within any department or line of business should have quick access to data, and the ability to share that data. Typically, this would be through interactive Dashboards that show graphs, charts, date trending, top/bottom analysis (e.g. on customers or products) or other KPIs (like missed targets).
Self-service Reporting and Data Analysis: Analysts should not always be required to contact their IT department to access new reports or new dashboards. They should have an integrated set of simple to use tools within the platform to build and share their own reports or dashboards.
Simple Data Access/Data Prep: If new data comes into the system, many organizations tend to look to IT to always expose it to their users (mostly with canned reports or Excel). A scalable BI platform should allow other users (e.g. maybe an analyst) to bring new data into their domain, prep it (for example with filters, calculations, standard naming conventions) and share it with other users.
Integrated AI. When handling advanced data analytics, it is important to take your data a step further. Having integration with advanced AI tools will allow users to consider such scenarios as Forecasting, Intent-based reporting and Conversational Assistants.
Integrated Security. An integrated platform should allow the team to build security once; and it should then carry through to all reports and dashboards. Security can be (for example) based on Geography, Departments, Products or Sales teams.
Integration and planning are the keys to long-term success...
Of course a main point to consider is the integration of the solution and tools. There are many platforms and vendors that say they do all the above, but in reality, for most it tends to be a mix and match approach of their disparate tools. The challenge with this approach is that many times each tool requires their own installs or cloud versions and there is truly no integration. Additionally, it may require training users in several UIs. This can result in numbers not tying between products, duplication of efforts to access data, disparate looking reporting tools...and eventually a lack of trust and use within the environment.
Thus, when starting an analytics journey and selecting a BI platform we recommend considering both short-term reporting requirements and longer-term analytic aspirations. This way you will be prepared for both. Plus, you will also have a platform that provides immediate ‘wins and results’ while knowing you have a solid foundation for all future BI needs within the organization
Sterling Technology Group works with clients to help them make the best use of their data. We can work with your team on an initial assessment of your data and assist in defining both a short and long term analytics vision.