Business intelligence (BI) applications that can automate the process of gathering, storing, analyzing and providing access to data are approaching their maturity. Unfortunately, when it comes to determining which direction to take, many first-time adopters painfully learn that all roads do not lead to Rome.
In your quest to automate the planning, reporting and analyzing process and provide actionable information to support decision-making at every level within your organization, consider this BI Traveler's Roadmap to Success
* Don't start without a roadmap. Develop a strategy. If you don't know where you're going, you're never going to get there. A good strategy aligns long- and short-term information initiatives with your business strategy, objectives and enterprise performance goals. A solid strategy will ensure a financially beneficial deployment of BI within your department or across the enterprise.
* Take along an experienced guide. If you haven't done this before, hire someone who has successfully done it many times. Many of the early adopters of BI applications found themselves getting lost in the journey. A competent BI guide will keep you moving in the right direction, help you to fill in the gaps in your company's information resources and needs, and create an enterprise-level business intelligence architecture that delivers a rapid return on investment on your existing IT assets, as well as a reduced total cost of ownership.
* Make the journey in a series of short hops. Build incrementally with valuable deliverables along the way. Creating an enterprise BI solution in a single effort is enormously difficult and financially risky. Enterprise BI touches all parts of the business, and integrating information from all these parts can be a very complicated process. Businesses have been much more successful building incremental solutions that fit into an enterprise BI strategy. The incremental solutions individually deliver valuable information on a single aspect of the business, and in aggregate provide an enterprisewide view.
* Plan extra time if you take a less-traveled route. New and boutique solutions will probably require more time to implement and support. There is no such thing as out-of-the-box BI. The best BI solutions combine packaged software with customized components, so be prepared to invest the necessary time and resources to do it right. In the end, you will be glad that your BI solution is tailored to meet the demand for your specific information assets.
* Make it a family trip. Ensure a commitment from both business and technical resources. Implementing a BI solution is a major undertaking, so it is critical that everyone understands the business, technical and cultural impact throughout the organization and actively supports its adoption. To be successful, a BI solution must be driven from the business, rather than from the technical team. And since an enterprise BI solution touches all parts of the business, it's important that each of those parts is represented when the solution is being crafted.
* Keep a flexible schedule, allowing for short side trips. Some of the most rewarding parts of a journey aren't on the itinerary. The discussions about the business that are part of designing BI solutions often lead to surprising insights into the business. Take advantage of those insights and adjust your plans as necessary.
The bottom line is that there is a whole world of information available for companies to use to profitably grow their businesses. With the proper preparation, the right attitude and the right traveling companions, any company can reap the benefits of following the BI Traveler's Roadmap to Success.
Bryan McClain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the business intelligence practice manager at Innovative Consulting, a leading provider of IT Strategy, Business Intelligence and eBusiness solutions to Fortune 1000 and middle market enterprises. Reach him at (610) 725-2101.