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Removing the BS in BI

(Image credit: Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock)

The term Business Intelligence (BI) is often banded around by organisations looking to elevate their data insights to the next level. But, what does this technology look like when the myths are removed and its benefits completely transparent?

It is no secret that BI, as a concept, is nothing new – it has been in the marketplace for a long time. However, despite various BI and analytics tools having existed for several years, the same solutions are being defaulted to and the age-old problems remain.

It is rarely the case that companies can confidently declare that their BI is doing exactly what it promised on the tin and has met – or exceeded – their expectations. So, what is really going wrong then?

Is there some digital deception or tech-related trickery going on behind the scenes? Often, the answer is ‘yes’ – and this is what’s stalling trust and progress within the sector.

Jumping on the bandwagon

Now, as a business leader, there is no harm in following in the footsteps of the masses, as long as they have their own individual journey mapped out in advance.

However, when it comes to the latest technology, organisations are often quick to sign up having listened to the corporate promises and perhaps not thinking realistically about the long-term benefits it will bring to the business. And this is a big faux pas.

Whether it is tech, clothing or food, nowadays there is so much choice and noise in the marketplace that can often be hard to distinguish the hard facts from the hot air. In truth, everyone keeps being promised something new from their shiny software solutions.

But with lots of buzzwords floating around – such as blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence – companies are often breathing out a sign of exasperation. While all these things can be extremely beneficial – if implemented correctly and at the right time – managers are still being left asking themselves questions such as: “What did my team do yesterday?” and “are they working efficiently?”

People are unfairly sold the promise that one solution will solve every single woe, and this is why companies leapfrog from one product to another. However, this scattergun approach means the core issue is never truly solved.

Therefore, the most important factor to consider when looking at BI is, are the basics right?

Getting back to fundamentals

While the latest, ‘cool’ tech trends may be tempting, way before firms even begin thinking about them, they need to consider the current visibility they have over their data.

This is because often one of the greatest challenges facing enterprises is knowing what their teams are doing every day. Are they doing what they should be? Is this effective?

All the answers to these questions provide the foundation for successful BI integration. So, before managers get carried away and dazzled by the stage lights of the latest software, they need to assess the level of visibility they have at present and go from there.

A nation of remote workers

In the current home-working climate, it has never been more important for managers to have visibility over their team’s operations.

The circumstances have forced organisations to think about or rework their existing BI – redesigning their dashboards and changing their focus. From an operational perspective, for managers it’s helpful to be able to see what their team is doing each day – not only so they can ensure the key work is done, but also redistribute workloads or provide help where needed.

Establishing this observational insight is what BI is all about. And the great saying, ‘what gets measured gets done’ has never rung truer in this sense.

Effectively, this is what gives managers the gift of time. If they know their colleagues are on with the high-priority tasks, they can dedicate the attention to their own to-do lists.

This is where the BS around BI being a time-eater is disproved. If staff feel empowered and trusted to get their work done, this means less time is allocated for catch-ups and ‘getting up to speed’ on projects – it is all visible via the bespoke dashboard.

Looking at operational BI during lockdown

With much of the nation working from their home offices, there are greater reports of workers’ anxiety. And BI can play a pivotal role in helping to reduce, or eradicate, this.

When we are not in work for long periods of time, it can severely impact team camaraderie and job satisfaction. There is an underlying sensitivity around colleagues trying to prove to their team leaders that they are working just as hard when they are at home.

Ironically, while this may mean a percentage of people are running themselves into the ground to ensure nothing is missed, this is not sustainable for their mental health and, as a result, nor is it beneficial for the company.

Yet, if BI is ‘done right’, employees will not feel like they have to prove themselves as much – if at all. In some ways, the fact their managers and peers can see what they are working on without being checked upon acts as a virtual pat on the back.

Do not be fooled by appearances

Finally, one of the other common misnomers within the BI industry is that the ‘prettiest’ solutions are the best. This, however, is not a steadfast rule.

It is important to remember that the real key is, does it tell businesses something new? Does it challenge them? And does it change behaviours?

At the end of the day, the reason we collect data and present it back to people is to change organisational behaviour for the better. How often a company’s existing solution or approach achieves this is crucial in uncovering whether the BS has triumphed over the BI during the initial procurement process. And what changes need to happen to harness the firm’s real-time data as the valuable asset it truly is.

Ken Miller, chief technology officer, Panintelligence