Article:

The business intelligence journey

20 September 2018

Michael Macolino, Senior Manager, Advisory |

While many businesses are still on the journey to the cloud, a new path towards business intelligence (BI) is emerging for many. 

Before detailing what the BI journey looks like, it’s important to understand what is meant by business intelligence. The proliferation of data visualisation tools has provided a new way to gain insights into the information that has been trapped inside excel spreadsheets and legacy information systems.

However, these tools have failed to give the full picture, because many organisations have only been able to utilise them to visualise siloed business functions like finance or marketing. 

When organisations want a complete picture across the business, the full range of data black spots begins to emerge. BI is about spotting a dip in revenue and then having access to comprehensive sales data to dig into the underlying cause. It’s about being able to track sales and service data to find the reason why your NPS score dipped in a particular month. 

Like the journey to the cloud, the path to business intelligence requires some pre-work to lay the foundation upon which your business intelligence system will be built. 

Digitisation of processes 

So much data still resides in excel-based systems that are siloed from organisations’ larger information management systems. Combine this with legacy-based software that lacks an application programming interface (API), and you start to get an understanding of the work that needs to be undertaken before any type of business intelligence is possible. 

A great first step is to do an audit of what workflow processes involve Excel or non API connected systems, then start the process of implementing cloud software solutions that can support the input and management of this data. 

Once the data is housed in a structured software system, it can then be accessed via an API to form part of your BI system. 

System integration

Once you’ve built a place for all of your data, it’s time to integrate the systems and workflows to ensure the data is kept updated with the least amount of human effort possible. 

While having all information systems in the cloud is great, data is rarely in one unified software package. CRM data, E-commerce data and financial data may all be in different systems. But building a complete picture of your customers means that these system need to be integrated via an API to ensure data is consistent and relevant to the decision making process. 

Integration also means that the data is automatically sent from one system to another, ensuring it is readily available, current and of a high quality. 

Data warehousing 

Once data is in the cloud and the various systems are integrated and functioning like a Swiss watch, it’s time for the fun part.

To compare data from across information systems, a data warehouse needs to be developed to send it to, to be organised and stored, ready for data visualisation tools to produce those amazing new dashboards. 

Data warehousing has become much more accessible recently with several tools offering solutions that can be quickly configured and affordably maintained in the cloud. A data warehouse will be unique to each organisation and its design will be dictated by the type of data, how often it needs to be updated and the structure of the information that needs to be stored in the data warehouse. 

Data Visualisation

Once data is being automatically sent to a data warehouse, we can start to produce the visualisations that will help to build a data driven organisation. 

The data model that was developed for the data warehouse will enable comparison and analysis of information from each of the information systems. The challenge is to leverage this unique data model and find the appropriate visualisations to allow users to quickly understand what the data is showing them, so they can take the best course of action. 

A great place to start is replacing board reports with a series of dashboards. Generally, the information needed to satisfy board reporting will require data from all areas of the business. Once this reporting process has been refined, dashboards can be built for the next level of management, before continuing to drive this data down to other levels of the organisation giving everyone permission controlled, tailored access to the organisation’s data. 

Go start your Business Intelligence Journey 

These types of initiatives require a constant improvement approach to realise their true benefit to the organisation. So - develop a strategy, get the right people involved and take the first step.