Best Value BI Trends: BI Embedded into Business Processes and Decision Making

January 22, 2014
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MoneymazeThis post is part of a series on trends that may have been around for years without many enterprises successfully implementing them, or they might be emerging trends.

MoneymazeThis post is part of a series on trends that may have been around for years without many enterprises successfully implementing them, or they might be emerging trends. Either way, they are what enterprises should do if they want to get the best business value from their existing or new BI investments.

BI embedded into business processes and decision-making is, by far, the best sign that BI’s business value has arrived and that it has gone mainstream.

And, it shows that BI has progressed from the back rooms of IT to take a seat at the business table, where it can provide far more value.

The BI report philosophy

For much of its history, BI was “done” by the IT group, which then published BI reports for the business group. In the beginning, they published printed (“green bar”) reports; these were replaced by PDF reports; these were then replaced with online (web browser) reports and now even mobile devices.

During this evolution from green bar report to tablet display, reporting became more interactive, offering drop-down filters and drill-down capabilities. Dashboards and data visualizations are the norm now, but in their previous incarnation they were often just multiple reports visually displayed together. Regardless of how the business BI consumer accessed the report, it was still a pre-built, published report.

Despite these advances, the underlying principle of the “BI equals publishing reports” philosophy was that business consumers would examine the reports to perform analysis and then, presumably, take action based on the data.  And this leads us to the weak spot in that philosophy: generating a report doesn’t mean anyone is actually going to do anything with the data. In fact, it is very surprising how little the hundreds or maybe thousands of BI reports are even used in enterprises today. Since many enterprises do not monitor report usage, the lack of use only becomes apparent when a BI report migration underway and so many reports become “orphans.”

Getting better business value from BI

The enterprises that get the best business value out of BI have been embedding BI into their business processes and decision-making. This is a proactive approach where BI applications are designed to give business people actionable business intelligence rather than just hope they will find useful information in a report. (Or worse, a deluge of reports.)

The key to business value from BI is that it is “actionable” — meaning based on her analysis the business person can do something meaningful with the data. Embedding BI into business processes means the business and IT understand that the workflow needs to include analytics not as the end result of BI, but as the fuel that drives business activity. The goal is managing and improving business performance, not analyzing reports.

Making it happen

How do you embed BI into business processes? The key design principles for embedded BI is to go beyond asking business people what data they need, and learn the why, how and when they’ll use that data. Find out:

  • Why they are interested in the data – what business processes and decisions need it
  • How they are going to use this data –do they simply look up a number and act, do they collectively use various pieces of data, do they develop metrics based on the data, etc.
  • When they use the data –what triggers the need to examine the data, is there a decision-making workflow that triggers successive data needs, etc.

Besides creating the typical business and data requirements, this design approach is best served by using storyboarding to illustrate the business person’s use of data in his decision-making. This will generally result in a workflow of BI applications, such as dashboards, data discovery and data visualizations supporting business processes.

Designing BI applications in this manner requires more than BI development process knowledge; it requires strong business analysis skills. Many of the enterprises that have succeeded in this approach have shifted BI application from an IT-only activity to a joint business-IT process with BI developers teamed up with business people for the design activities.