Year after year the hype surrounding data analytics becomes louder. Thought leaders and research organizations have sung the praises of analytics as a means for generating much-needed insight into business operations, and companies that have embraced analytics have been able to translate insight to better operational productivity and faster, more accurate decision-making. In a competitive business environment where your competition is just as hungry as you are to reach and secure new customers and where business leaders need to make accurate, fact-based decisions about the company’s future, analytics can be the game-changer that makes the difference between success and failure. Here’s how:
The beauty of analytics is that it can serve as a guideline for transforming sub-par business performance to one that is efficient and profitable. Whereas reports provide a historical view of what transpired, analytic output is forward-looking, and plays an integral role in helping executives plan for the future.
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Even though BI has been around for decades, misconceptions still persist. These myths harm BI’s reputation and can make it difficult to achieve buy-in from stakeholders. Let’s review a few of the common misconceptions I’ve come across in my work as a BI consultant.
1) Dashboards = Business Intelligence
Certainly dashboards with at-a-glance views of KPIs are the most common form of business intelligence, but they’re not the only mechanism for consuming BI content. Many companies use dashboards for quick reviews of very important metrics, but just as many are running monthly or even daily reports with their BI software. Many of our customers use arcplan to send daily financial reports to entire departments every morning. Other BI models include self-service ad-hoc reporting, which goes beyond traditional static reporting, and data discovery, where analysts interactively explore data from multiple sources in a BI interface. Then there are many BI platforms that enable users to use BI like social media – collaborate with peers, leave comments, annotate graphs and more. The truth is, business intelligence solutions nowadays are flexible enough to accommodate however your users want to work. Don’t limit yourself to thinking dashboards are BI. They can help you monitor your business performance easily and should be a part of your BI mix, but think about what other forms of BI can contribute to the success of your initiative.
2) The most popular BI tool must be the right one for my organization
When it comes to BI, one size doesn’t fit all. The hype surrounding popular solutions doesn’t necessarily translate to value for your organization. You should evaluate whether the solutions on your shortlist are compatible with your data architecture, whether they’ll address users’ specific requirements, and whether they’re scalable for future development. You might set yourself up for failure if you only shortlist “hot” vendors. Need a starting point? Try analyst evaluations like BARC’s BI Survey. Its analysis can help you build a list of vendors to evaluate based on product capabilities and user feedback.
3) BI ROI is questionable
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For a lot of people, business intelligence = dashboards. Since they’re so relied upon to present at-a-glance views of KPIs and to guide decision-making for business leaders, it’s critical that dashboards are well-formatted, easy to read and simple to navigate. Let’s explore the dashboard design trends that resonate with today’s executives.
1) Flat UI will continue to grow
In 2014 clean beats clutter. Users are drawn to crisp, clean interfaces, often with tile-based layouts. Windows 8 was influential in creating this flat design and Apple followed suit with iOS 7. Business leaders can quickly access and interpret data when information is presented in an uncluttered interface.
2) Mobile First
While it might seem like every company on earth is using business intelligence tools to glean insight from their corporate data, surveys say that nearly 10% of companies do not yet have BI in place. Even though 91% of companies may have it deployed somewhere in their organization, anecdotally BI vendors like to trot out the statistic that only 20% of potential users have access to business intelligence. The more companies we talk to, the more this seems true.
If you run a company or a department that doesn’t have access to BI tools, you might wonder how you can use them. Boris Evelson from Forrester Research compiled a list of analysis types that may apply to your situation:
- Historical (what happened)
- Operational (what is happening now)
- Analytical (why did it happen)
- Predictive (what might happen)
- Prescriptive (what should I do about it)
- Exploratory (what’s out there that I don’t know about)
When you’re first starting out with BI, you’ll likely be most interested in historical and operational analytics, though we often work with finance teams who want to dive right into predictive analytics. Let’s look at a few practical BI use cases in various departments of an organization.
Finance Department: Historical, Operational, Analytical, and Predictive Analysis
Dashboards are the most tangible deliverable from business intelligence providers. Not everyone can fathom what “guided analytics” are, or how collaboration capabilities can help their business, but dashboards make sense to people. They’re still a hot trend, even in 2014, and getting hotter as mobile BI – which usually takes the form of mobile dashboards – becomes more prevalent. Companies of every size want dashboards and decision makers at every level need them to stay on top of their key metrics. But what are the business trends that will influence dashboard purchases in 2014? Let’s look at the top 5:
1) Business users will drive dashboard deployments
Line of business users will play a more dominant role in evaluating and selecting dashboard software while IT departments will play a diminishing role in 2014. Traditionally, IT-chosen platforms are highly governed and provide trickles of information that seldom keep up with the demands of the business. By contrast, business-led dashboard projects have different requirements including self-service capabilities, direct access to data and short implementation timelines.
2) Full-service self-service…