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Why business intelligence leverage matters—and how businesses can get it

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

Twenty years. That’s how long I’ve been working with data now. While it’s hard for me to believe that at times, it’s the truth.

And so is this: while much has changed since I first learned to write some structured query language on an InterBase database, much has also stayed the same. Indeed, just as in years past, even the people and organisations that have the most current tech stack are constantly trying to modernise their data and analytics function.

“Trying” is the operative word there, because it makes for the actual lesson here. Modernising is not just about buying the latest technology; it is about how all your tools fit together and how you can adopt new technology into your ecosystem.

Yet there’s still some way to go. In a recent report where we surveyed over 880 CMOs, 74 per cent of business leaders said their companies have still not fully embraced digitisation of business processes, products and services. The rise of new technologies and techniques mean it’s now much more difficult to stay abreast of current trends, with more than a third of CMOs (40 per cent) saying the number of data channels and sources has made it more difficult to plan for the long-term. However, development rates are only more likely to accelerate than slow down.

I know from experience that the traditional way of “doing” Business Intelligence (BI) isn’t working anymore. It has become demoralising and emotionally draining—and yet the need for effective BI has never been greater.

Dresner Advisory Services’ 2019 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study testifies to all of this. Of the thousands of organisations that participated in the study, more than half (55 per cent) said they plan to increase BI investment. Yet, regardless of how many BI tools the companies surveyed use, only 28 per cent of them categorise their BI efforts as “completely successful.”

The good news is there is a pathway to BI success. It involves having what we call BI leverage. How do you get it? By taking a good look at two important components of any business, for a start.

1 – Your tools

Many business leaders have invested in multiple data tools and platforms. Each may have been carefully selected, and each may have been chosen to meet a specific business or data problem. But taken as a whole, they could actually add up to less than the sum of their parts. BI leverage is about connecting these investments and amplifying their power.

Take the role of a CIO - to see the bigger picture in an uncertain and ever-changing environment, understanding how multiple tools interact with and impact each other. These must be successfully managed whilst the CIO juggles increasing demands on their knowledge and capabilities, as they are pushed to work beyond their core duties of setting and leading technological strategy.

Here are four strategies BI professionals could employ to address company-wide technology management and ownership:

Leverage application programming interfaces (API) to integrate systems so they can talk to each other and remain consistent. This can mean pulling data or pushing data between systems to encourage synergy.

Ensure you have a mix of low and high-code tools so that many people can contribute. But the low and high code need to be able to talk to each other and build on each other.

Know when to adapt, not renew. Often, the problems businesses face don’t change as fast as the technology offered to solve them. Efficient scaling and augmentation of existing technology is often the hardest part of solving BI challenges, rather than continually adding more new technology in its own silo.

Thoughtfully acknowledge when it is time to “sunset” a tool. Be empathetic to the impact it may have on your workforce and team structures, and make sure you address the pain that sometimes comes with losing a tool.

2 – Your people

While companies invest a lot in tools, they also invest a lot in people. People and data are your most valuable assets, and your BI team must be set up to serve the business with speed, agility and scale. Hiring data scientists, data engineers, and analysts is a big but necessary expenditure. Brilliant resources can be wasted though if they aren’t leveraged correctly — like when they are working on the wrong projects or focusing on initiatives that are not a priority. BI leverage involves making the most of your investment in people, preventing these issues from arising.

Here are three strategies BI professionals could employ to address this:

Empower the business user to make the small changes. There is no need for someone with a PhD to be adding columns to a report or changing the colour of a chart. These are things that can be quickly handled in the business by the most appropriate team member. And by empowering the business, it can more quickly respond to the changing business landscape.

Have tools that can bring data science to life in a meaningful way. Data science cannot be a black hole. Empower the business at scale with the power of data science; don’t keep it locked up in a silo. These tools could include real-time data visualisation programmes, data integration/transformation or embedded analytics.

Set up ways for small questions to be answered by a triage team instead of by the folks who could easily be adding value in other areas. Small questions are important, but they should be funnelled to those who are trained to answer them, and have time to answer them with dedicated attention.

Traditional BI doesn’t work in an era when the world is moving at breakneck speed. So, the faster BI professionals can examine how their tools and people are working — and begin implementing steps to address the inefficiencies — the better off they’ll be, and the better off the business will be. Thanks to faster automation, critical processes that used to take weeks can be done faster and at massive scale. Companies that invest in data-driven decision-making tools and practices are those that reap the rewards. The one thing we know for certain is that the world will continue to change. Investing in BI leverage will make sure your data and your organisation can change with it.

Ben Schein, Vice President, Data Curiosity, Domo