If you’ve ever discussed how you can gain greater insight into your processes, you’ve likely heard of business intelligence tools, also known as BI. But what does BI do exactly? How is it helpful? How can you make sure you set yourself up for success when using it? This article aims to answer those questions and more when it comes to how to build a successful business intelligence strategy. So let’s get started.
What Is BI?
Business intelligence is a larger umbrella term for a variety of subcategories of software that generates reports and performs analysis on proprietary data. It includes business analytics, big data analytics, embedded analytics and enterprise reporting as well as more niche capabilities like web analytics, social media intelligence, etc.
The purpose of business intelligence is to help your organization make data-driven business decisions. By collecting proprietary data on things like transactions, customer demographics, sales numbers, lead generation, etc., you can get a better, more well-rounded understanding of your business’s operations. Business intelligence delivers this by collecting, organizing and visualizing specified data into charts or graphs that make it easy to interpret.
This data collection also helps users make accurate predictions and forecasts. Want to know how much seasonality will affect your business around the Winter holidays? If you’ve been collecting data for several years, you can use BI to generate models of what current and future years will look like based on historical data. You can extrapolate this process for a huge range of business queries.
What Is a Business Intelligence Strategy?
So now that you know what business intelligence entails, how do you build a business intelligence strategy? A software implementation, or delivery strategy, is the plan that managers implement in order to prepare for, choose and begin using a new business software platform. It’s important to develop a strategy before starting the process of selecting software. It will help you have a plan prepared in advance to guide you along every step of the way and can prevent hindrances in the process.
A business intelligence strategy involves planning a budget, incorporating stakeholder input, identifying goals, choosing software and rolling that software out. The next section will discuss specifically implementing a business intelligence strategy in more detail.
Why Do You Need a Business Intelligence Strategy?
Why do you need a business intelligence implementation strategy? Can’t you just buy any software system off the shelf? Well, yes and no. You technically could buy almost any business intelligence software on the market — most offer a robust array of reporting and analytics capabilities that could do the job.
That being said, the only way to ensure you get the best fit for your needs is to make a strategic plan for choosing, purchasing and implementing your BI software. Think of it like taking a sea voyage — you could wing it and hope you find land, or you could take a detailed star chart, survival rations and life rafts with you.
What Are the Components of a Business Intelligence Strategy?
Here’s a quick breakdown of the steps that your business intelligence strategy should include:
Get Input From Stakeholders
Before you perform any other steps within your BI strategy, you’ll need input from your shareholders, employees, the C-Suite, etc. Determine who will be using the software, what kind of budget you have, what kinds of tasks the software will need to perform and what specific workloads you expect the software to take over. While it’s never possible to make everyone happy, getting as close as possible will reduce the likelihood of friction down the line.
Set Implementation Goals
Implementing business intelligence software is a big undertaking, so it’s important to understand what you want from the software from the get-go. You’ll need to ask yourself a series of targeted questions in order to narrow down your needs. What data will you be collecting? Where is that data stored? What insights do you hope to draw from this data? Does your data need to be in real time, or can it be aggregated over time? Which KPIs do you need to track? Who will be using the software? These questions will help you determine what kind of software you need, how broad the scope will be and what your end goals are.
Create a Budget
Developing an accurate budget is key to successful BI implementation. Most BI platforms keep their pricing private, but you can usually find ranges or starting costs in pricing guides or reviews. These can help you achieve a ballpark number for creating a budget. The only way to get an accurate estimate is to ask for a quote directly from the vendor. Because software is often priced on a per-user, per-module basis, it’s helpful to request pricing from every vendor you’re interested in working with during this step.
A happy medium is also key for this step. Unless you truly need it, you don’t want to buy the priciest version of a software solution with all the bells and whistles included. Not only will that make it prohibitively expensive, but you also likely won’t use many of the features. By the same token, underbuying is likely to result in an under-developed system that doesn’t provide what you need. Stay realistic and moderate when planning a budget.
Requirements are the list of criteria used to compare systems against your business needs. While creating this list, make sure to touch base with the users who will be directly interacting with the software, as they will often be the most familiar with what features they need to perform their tasks. Do they need to be able to share reports with large groups of people both in and outside the organization? Do they need detailed drill-down capabilities? Does the solution need to incorporate data from SQL, relational and transactional databases? Determining what you need is the crucial first step when choosing BI software.
This requirements checklist can help you get an idea of what features are out there as well as what each one does. Then you can use our interactive requirements template to fill out your specific needs, which you’ll submit to vendors to get price quotes and demos.
Identifying your requirements also helps in the selection process by eliminating vendors who don’t provide a feature you require or who don’t consistently deliver on necessary functions. You can compare different business intelligence vendors based on how well they are rated for different features. Combining this comparison report with reviews and eventual demos will help you get a feel for which solution is the right match for your business.
Submit an RFP
Submitting an RFP for business intelligence is easy — here’s a step-by-step BI RFP guide. Once you’ve gathered your requirements and narrowed down your vendors from the last two steps, you’ll be perfectly prepared to submit the official RFP to your shortlist. By requesting proposals from vendors, you ensure accurate price quotes for your specific business needs and begin to develop a personal relationship with the vendors who will eventually be supplying your BI solution. It also gives you the chance to be very clear with your needs and get clarification from vendors about features and capabilities for individual platforms.
You can now request trials or demos from your shortlist vendors at this stage. Taking the software for a trial run and seeing if it can perform the necessary tasks in a user-friendly way is the only surefire way to get a system you’ll be happy with. It also helps you determine firsthand whether the platform will actually be able to deliver on the features you want to use.
Plan User Training
Once you’ve chosen the right system, it’s time to plan your training program. Usually, vendors offer some combination of a free knowledgebase, help documents, video training, FAQs, forums, live classes and in-person seminars to get you set up and comfortable with the software. These offerings vary by vendor and come at different costs based on the platform, but are pretty standard.
Decide what kind of training you’re hoping for ahead of time so you can get an accurate price quote for this training. Reading reviews and talking to other customers is the best way to get this information — how much training did they get included in their subscription or license purchase? Did they feel like it was enough? How much would additional training cost and what does it look like? This way, you’ll be prepared for what to expect and what you need from the vendor during implementation.
What Are the Benefits of a Business Intelligence Strategy?
Business intelligence itself offers a huge range of benefits, but there are plenty of perks for having a BI strategy before buying. Here are just a few:
First of all, a good business intelligence strategy should help you choose, purchase and implement a software solution in the shortest, smoothest way possible. By having an established plan, budget and training outline ahead of time, you’ll save time that would otherwise be spent determining all these factors after the fact — or worse, changing them to fit later requirements or needs.
A BI strategy helps you save money in a plethora of ways. First of all, determining the exact features you’ll use is one of the main ways to save money by preventing a bloated system with too many bells and whistles to pay for. You’ll also save cash on costly labor hours by reducing the time spent on the process, as mentioned above. Being prepared for the training offerings (and associated cost) will help you budget accordingly and reduce unforeseen expenditures.
Get a Competitive Edge
Let’s go straight to an example here: imagine two businesses, Company A and Company B. Both are in the same industry with a similar number of employees and earnings in comparable parts of the world. Both are looking to implement business intelligence software, but Company A builds a delivery strategy beforehand, and Company B doesn’t.
Company A takes their exact requirements to the shortlist of vendors that best deliver their key features. Company B is still looking around at all the platforms available trying to decide which might be best for them. Next, company A gets demos and price quotes from their shortlist so they can take the systems for a test drive and ensure they meet the requirements. Company B has finally gotten in touch with several vendors that had the highest ratings, only to find out that two of them are way out of their price range and has to start the search over.
Company A chooses a platform that delivers their key requirements and has a user interface they’re happy with that’s hopefully within or at least close to their original budget. Company B has settled on the platform that seems the best, but they don’t really have a surefire way to tell. Now Company A can start on their prepared training strategy confidently while Company B tries to implement the software with whatever training resources their vendor offers.
By this point, Company A has saved time, money and stress in their business intelligence software search, and Company B may not even be able to properly implement the software. A delivery strategy can make all the difference in the end.
What Are the Downsides of Not Using a Business Intelligence Strategy?
There are plenty of problems you might encounter without a business intelligence strategy that should urge you to consider implementing one. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:
Decreased Chance of Successful Adoption
According to Gartner and Forbes, BI adoption is only around 30% in most industries. If you want to avoid being one of those on the outside, a pre-planned business intelligence strategy is key to successful adoption. As you saw in the Company A vs. Company B thought experiment, Company B is at a much higher risk of failure because they don’t know if the system they chose will ultimately meet their requirements.
Higher Risk of Overspending
Similarly, Company B is more likely to overspend than Company A because they don’t have a strict plan. If a vendor tells Company B they absolutely need advanced real-time data updates on their dashboards, they might blindly agree. Then if they don’t use that feature, it will be a useless money pit slowing down the system and making it harder to use. While Company A could certainly fall prey to the same problems, it’s less likely when you have a strict plan for which features you’ll definitely use. You can always add on later as your business grows.
Loss of Time
Company B floundered and had to start over in their software search, whereas Company A proceeded systematically and smoothly. Having a defined plan of attack is always a better strategy than moving forward blindly in the business world.
Like I said earlier, many business intelligence adoptions fail. This is largely because employees struggle to use the system. If the interface isn’t user-friendly or if the software is too bloated and difficult to navigate, of course employees aren’t going to use it. This frustration leads to unsuccessful use and adoption of the software, costing you money for training or switching to a different system entirely.
A sound business intelligence strategy is a key step in any software implementation. You can prevent overspending, save time and money, keep your employees happy as well as gain a competitive edge by approaching the software selection process with an intentional BI strategy. The key elements of this strategy include requirements gathering, vendor comparison, quote requests, demo requests, training and budgeting. Now you should have all the tools you need to proceed confidently in your BI software search.
Did we miss anything you consider crucial to developing a business intelligence strategy? Let us know in the comments!