Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

5 BI Worst Practices to Avoid


bi-worst-practicesBusiness intelligence is the key to unlocking insights from data and empowering company leaders to make impactful decisions, act swiftly even in volatile market conditions, and plan strategically for the success of the organization. arcplan is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and BI has been around at least as long as we have. Over the last 2 decades, we've seen companies make similar mistakes – mistakes that undermine the success of their BI initiatives. Those new to BI should learn from their predecessors. Here are 5 common BI worst practices and how to avoid them:

1) Blindly buying technology without considering your analytical requirements
BI projects do sometimes fail; it's not something anyone likes to talk about, but most of the time these failures can be blamed on a lack of requirements gathering. Vendors like us have to ensure that we understand our customers' requirements inside and out in order to deliver a solution that will be successful and demonstrate concrete ROI. But the truth is, some companies don't have a thorough understanding of their users' needs before they start evaluating solutions. Too many organizations start "feature wars" with vendors and end up buying the solution with the most perceived bells and whistles – features they barely understand and will never have a use for.

This is a much of a problem for customers as it is for vendors; it's our job to ensure that what we're selling you will have value to your organization, and a lot of that comes down to understanding your users' needs. But if you don't understand your users' needs, how can we?

The first thing you must understand before you try to purchase a BI solution is the analytical problems your company is trying to solve. Don't get side-tracked by fancy bells and whistles that will not solve your business problems. Avoid the feature wars and make your shortlisted BI vendors prove that their solution is a match with a custom demo or proof-of-concept application.

2) Using BI as a gateway to Excel
Excel use is still pervasive in many organizations, with estimates that 50-80% are using standalone spreadsheets as a substitute for reporting applications. Improvements to Excel 2013 such as chart enhancements and better data analysis capabilities make it even more appealing for business users. So it should come as no surprise that the number one feature in BI applications is the "Export to Excel" button. Many BI systems devolve into portals or gateways to get data into Excel, and what this tells us is that your reports or dashboards are inadequate for answering the business problems at hand. Your business intelligence solution should actually be a step up from Excel, not the first step towards working in Excel. You'll probably never get power users to give up on Excel, but compromising with an add-in like arcplan Excel Analytics ensures that users can securely access live, IT-governed data from multiple data sources in Excel, avoiding spreadmarts and multiple versions of the truth.

3) Using visualizations incorrectly
Visualizations should provide value, illuminate your data, make trends and relationships more obvious, and entice users to drill down for deeper, more granular information. Big mistakes include visualizing data that's better understood in table form, and just plain using the wrong chart or graph altogether. Though your BI solution may offer a range of fancy charts and graphs, not all of them are appropriate for your data. Even if a bar chart isn't very exciting, it may be the best mechanism to convey your data's story. If you don't have internal data visualization experts, your BI vendor or implementation firm will be able to provide guidance in this area. We also have a number of resources on this blog about choosing the right chart type for your data.

4) Making IT responsible for generating dashboards and reports
Tempting as it is, it's not a good idea to outsource dashboard and report creation responsibilities to the IT department. Just because they're good with computers doesn't mean they're analytical, or frankly, that they understand the business at all. Those that have a better understanding of the business problems are better equipped to create useful reports and dashboards. Recognizing this, we developed a self-service solution – arcplan Engage – that enables users to take parts of existing dashboards and pin them to a personal BI Wall. In essence, they can create their own dashboards by subscribing to the metrics that are most useful to them without any programming and without having to build anything at all. Choosing a business intelligence solution like arcplan equips business users with the ability to directly access all of the data sources that are relevant, and it's easy enough for them to create summary reports and dashboards themselves via drag-and-drop or run ad-hoc reports on the fly – all without help from IT.

5) Not thinking mobile first
The future of business intelligence is mobile BI. In a fast-paced, modern business environment, your staff relies on smartphones and tablets to get their work done. Business intelligence applications need mobile capabilities to cater to this dynamic workforce. Mobile BI applications should deliver the right data at the right time on an intuitive interface, and provide actionable insight for the end user no matter where they are. Tall order? Maybe for some, but mobile optimization is built into arcplan. The fact is that creating the an amazing BI app for desktop use only is designing for obsolescence.

These BI worst practices can be avoided with a clear understanding of what your company is trying to achieve with your BI initiative.

Have any other worst practices to add to this list?

Dwight deVera

About Dwight deVera

I'm Senior VP responsible for Solutions Delivery at arcplan in North America. I also present on a lot of arcplan webinars, so you can sign up to hear me - the events listing on our website is located here: You can also follow me on Twitter: @dwightdevera.
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