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The Elements of a Bestin-Class BI Program for Business Advantage

Alisha Thompson, Senior Director, Global Digital Center of Excellence and Business Intelligence, Domtar
Alisha Thompson, Senior Director, Global Digital Center of Excellence and Business Intelligence, Domtar

Alisha Thompson, Senior Director, Global Digital Center of Excellence and Business Intelligence, Domtar

Alisha Thompson is the Chief Data Architect and a Senior Director of Domtar Personal Care (Division of Domtar Inc.), the largest integrated producer of uncoated free-sheet paper in North America and the second largest in the world based on production capacity. She is a skilled technology leader with over 20 years of experience and expertise across healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and aerospace.

Many organizations are plagued with a data deluge, silo-ed BI tools, and a single version of the truth confusion. Our business leaders are faced with the challenge of achieving increased aggressive results using assigned tools without disruption or slowing down their day to day business activities. Elements of a best-in-class business intelligence program provide a common operating picture creating business advantages. Let us consider five points in your journey to create a BI program best in class.

One. Vision and strategy of where your business is evolving. A strategic plan is also known as a company's competitive advantage and where they play within the market. A BI program is a journey, not a destination. Some companies consider a BI program to be a destination and not a journey. This view is short-sighted for an organization looking to leverage information for competitive advantages. Variety and volume of data within diverse subject areas leverage the value chains of the firm. A real competitive advantage exists for institutions with vision, strategy, and patience seeing through the problematic points throughout the journey. Developing a common operating picture involves each function across the organization, being able to quickly and succinctly explain the company vision and strategy within a few sentences.

Two. Executive sponsorship is foundational. Sponsoring places priority and focuses on data-driven results. BI is utilized as a strategic tool by business teams to reach their goals. For business teams to benefit from BI, the decisions made must be impactful to the top and bottom lines. The executive team should be bullish for the BI program mission and purpose. BI program mission and purpose should inherently align with company goals and objectives. Championing the goals of the program increases the likelihood of business team goals and company success. What brings company success and business value? Not a report. Not a dashboard. What brings business value are the business decisions driven from the information. The choices are the business value and return on investment for the program.

Three. Teamwork is imperative. Michael Jordan has been quoted as saying: "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." The same is true in business. Cross-collaborative teamwork sets the environment for valuable information sharing and planning impactful information and analytic implementations. The integration of information across disparate business sources increases the intellectual horsepower of the data warehouse and its associated semantic tool reporting capabilities. Developing a community of interest (COI) within the different departments and functions sets the conditions and culture for teamwork. Identifying the facts and assumptions for informational COI needs for today, tomorrow, next month, yearend, next year, and next decade. Listening to key business leaders across the organization with the intent of building a business charter of subject matter experts (SMEs) is the first step. The SMEs can share expertise along with any market initiatives that matter to them. Sharing a delivery vision of critical information with the subject matter experts builds a shared vision, which in turn fosters teamwork and trust. Shared vision and articulation of information to the subject matter experts build the trust needed for a BI Program to succeed. Building trust happens through incremental delivery, then increasingly more significant business wins.

Four. Spend more time on the requirements, "the problem" than you think you need to. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying: "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions."

Understand the business process inside and out, creating a process map by talking with everyone involved. Write everything down and ask the SMEs what you have wrong. Do not assume anything. Ask questions, ask questions, and ask questions throughout the entire process. Then Listen. Listening seems like an obvious and natural step: however, this is the hardest step. We, as humans, think we have an understanding of concept after we read, hear, and so forth. According to Edgar Dale, we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss with others, 80% of what we experience, and 95% of what we teach others. Hearing is also not understanding.

Understanding what is said and also what is not said is essential. Drawing connections from what is not said implies a mastery of knowledge and generating full value for stakeholders. This concept should be understood and strived to implement any BI project, let alone a program. Holistically document a subject area then model business processes surrounding the subject area to understand essential metrics (also known as KPIs) and business descriptors. Kimball and Inmon, in my humble opinion, both have reliable approaches worth learning as a foundation for deriving BI business requirements and process modeling. What is the language spoken by the business area? Understand business terminology by drilling down and attempting to define the terms by asking questions. Co-create KPIs with your team to describe and measure the business process with your SME's. I promise you will not be disappointed.

5. The user-centric design for self-service is the most critical point. Make using the enterprise BI tool and insights easy for business users. Business teams clicking more than a couple of times to reach their information will get frustrated and refuse to use the BI tools. Try implementing a simple flatter structure of subject areas with distinct naming conventions utilizing a userfocused design for self-service. A proper BI program drives valuable user-centric reporting with an enterprise BI solution, for example, MicroStrategy. For example: If Johnny has 15 folders to remember and he has to drill down 2 or 3 times in each folder, he will be frustrated and refuse to use the tool. Make it easy for Johnny and others, so users become advocates.

By setting your vision and strategy, obtaining executive sponsorship, fostering high-performance teamwork, spending more time on the requirements, and focusing on user-centric design, your chances of success significantly increase. Good luck on your best-in-class BI journey!  

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