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Five ways to get smarter about business intelligence in 2021

data woman
(Image credit: Future)

Running a business is about making decisions, and the best business leaders can go far by relying on their instincts. But while gut instinct and industry expertise can take you a long way, adding a layer of hard data into the mix can help you take your decision-making to the next level. In today’s fast-moving and ultra-competitive world, it’s possible to swing from enormous demand to a considerable loss of demand in a matter of moments, with little time to course-correct or triangulate your way toward a working solution. To succeed, we need to ensure that all our decisions are smart, data-driven, and grounded in clear metrics to maximize our chances of a positive outcome.

In principle, of course, every company knows about the importance of “business intelligence.” But in practice, the insights that can be gleaned from data — about customers, the marketplace, competitors, or your own internal operations — often wind up getting siloed and ignored. As we look to 2021, and face the challenges of adapting to a post-Covid world driven by digital interactions and eCommerce, we urgently need a new approach, with companies actively integrating data-driven insights into their decision-making processes at all levels of their organizations.

That’s especially important as businesses move their digital operations to the cloud. Enterprise IT teams are increasingly moving their infrastructure there in search of agility, the power to enable AI and other computationally intensive processes, and better security — but with a less mature and aggregated vendor marketplace, relative to traditional on-premise infrastructure, IT teams need to adapt by implementing best-of-breed strategies. Such sweeping transformations of the enterprise space are few and far between, so it’s vital that leaders grasp this opportunity to rethink the way they’re incorporating data-driven decision-making into all levels of their organizations. For many companies, that’s the difference between rapidly adapting to the new challenges of the eCommerce space, and missing the boat altogether. Here are 5 key ways we see business intelligence changing in the coming months:

1. Intelligence on demand.

Companies are used to analyzing KPIs on a quarterly basis. In the post-Covid world, however, businesses are seeing the need for more rapid access to actionable insights. In 2021, we’ll see organizations moving toward weekly or even daily data communication strategies — and adopting technologies designed for quickfire, real-time delivery of data-driven insights. That will mean less emphasis on sluggish tools such as Excel, PowerPoint, and even email, and a growing focus on dedicated business intelligence tools capable of delivering up-to-date insights on demand, across any and all of an end-user’s devices.

2. Snackable data.

For many decision-makers, using data effectively depends upon finding the right data amidst a bewildering array of information being surfaced by IT departments, BI tools, and internal data experts. Faced with a huge all-you-can-eat data buffet, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, or to miss the specific data that would be most useful to you. The solution: “snackable” data that’s presented in well-judged, bite-sized portions tailored to the needs of an individual user. Instead of an 80-page monthly report that takes three hours to trawl through, give your decision-makers a daily 3-minute update — because when salient data is presented in an accessible, clearly contextualized way, people can make smarter decisions without getting bogged down.

3. One screen, one insight.

In everyday life, people use apps like Uber and Spotify that are so intuitively designed that they can be used immediately by any novice, without any training or an onboarding process. In the business world, however, insights are buried in KPI-filled dashboards or huge Excel files, creating a steep learning curve that scares off many users. To make business intelligence more accessible, and generate faster insights, we need smarter and more intuitive data design. A clear rule is “one screen, one insight” — because if your user is having to trawl through a screenful of jumbled metrics to find the datapoint they care about, you’ve already lost them.

4. Sharing insights.

Generating actionable intelligence from raw data isn’t just about conducting smart analyses — it’s also about packaging the new intel in ways that non-specialists can understand and make easy use of. Too many BI tools are built for exploration, not communication, which reduces their utility for users who aren’t skilled data analysts. To expand data-driven decision-making across our organizations, we need a new focus on communication and data storytelling. It’s by delivering clear, focused, and visually engaging insights that we can ultimately encourage end-users to turn data into action.

5. Dynamism, not raw data.

Many organizations try to make their data accessible by creating dashboards, but these tools — while powerful — are often overly technical and daunting for a lay user. The future lies in automated, consumer-focused experiences delivered through dynamic data stories that place data in a clear context. Such storytelling can walk the user through the data story, providing clear and contextualized insights in ways that don’t depend on the user’s own analytic skills or ability to quickly distill meaningful insights from a block of numbers.

The bottom line is that in our rapidly changing world, there’s simply no room for error — and that means we urgently need to make data-driven decision-making a reality rather than merely an aspiration. To achieve that, we need to give all our employees ready access to the specific data they need, packaged and contextualized in ways that don’t require them to have sophisticated data analysis skills. With incisive data visualization and communication strategies, we can unlock the value embedded in our business intelligence, and steer our organizations more effectively through these turbulent times.

Charles Miglietti, CEO and co-founder, Toucan Toco

Charles Miglietti is the CEO and co-founder of Toucan Toco.