In my BI Basics series of blog posts, I’ve already discussed visualization and data transformation. Those are crucial aspects of Business Intelligence. Without the ability to acquire data and present it to people within the business, BI becomes somewhat of an academic exercise. Today, though, we want to talk about the goals that BI attempts to achieve. What is BI all about anyway?
I’ve made sidelong comments about it here and there, but I really want to spell it out and dig into the mission. Business Intelligence harnesses technology to collect, transform, and use data to support business goals. We’ve got four fundamental aspects here to our definition:
- Collecting data
- Transforming data
- Using data
- Supporting business goals
In this post, we really want to zero in on point number 4. For tech people who love technology for technology’s sake, I cannot stress it enough; everything is oriented to support the business. As a programmer, an IT geek and a techie, there’s the ever-present temptation to pursue technology for technology’s sake. If you mention a tech buzzword, it gets my heart racing. Cloud computing! Big Data! Data lakes! Machine learning! Artificial intelligence! We’re living in the future, folks!
The problem is that technology is not the end goal. It always needs to serve the business. BI has always been a support to the aims of the business. It doesn’t make a product which can be sold, but it still needs to demonstrate return on investment. Business Intelligence might do this by identifying ways to better serve customers or by uncovering waste or inefficiencies. It might also pinpoint products or services that may increase profits. It could reveal ways to make employees happier or more productive. It could also be used to improve R&D or internal processes. But if technology doesn’t serve a business need, it’s a distraction and a liability that needs to be killed off.
How do we do it?
How do we see some of that application to business needs in the real world? Well, see our solution briefs to get some stories of how we’ve helped customers in real life. I don’t want to turn this into a wholesale ad for BlueGranite, but we’ve done some cool stuff. A few examples? Everything from helping the agriculture industry effectively and responsibly irrigate vast areas of land, to helping transportation firms save millions on maintenance. We’ve also helped improve the lives those in need – helping a nonprofit better connect with donors to continue critical medical care funding for children’. The important part is that it isn’t just “We built this cool process to ingest and process terabytes of data” but that the process improved lives, the environment, profits and ultimately, for each organization and business.
When a BI project does not have business focus, it tends to become a sinkhole. If all you can say is “Isn’t it cool?” but can’t answer “What can it do for the business?” then it’s not business focused. Without a clear business application, the intended users will ignore the system or find ways around it. In fact, a project venture shouldn’t even be approved without any clearly defined business goals. Answering “What can it do for the business?” should be the first consideration. If there are no business users in meetings, that is a major red flag that the project does not have business focus. Without stakeholder input, features may be incomplete or even fundamentally broken. This can lead to unnecessary expenditures and may even disrupt existing processes with disastrous results.
To maintain business focus, involve business users continuously – from the inception of a project all the way through to the end. Their involvement is critical to success. In the design phase, they reveal project needs that are often invisible to the technical side. They can help spot flaws that will doom the project from the beginning. By participating regularly, these stakeholders see the progress being made and can keep the technical team apprised of new or unforeseen challenges. They remind the technical team that things like accessibility, user interface and polish matter. By guiding development, they are more likely to champion the project’s long-term results. And the project will be far more likely to succeed.
If you need help keeping a business focus on your BI projects, contact BlueGranite to help keep you on track!