Business Intelligence (BI) technology is quickly becoming commonplace in companies of every size, in every industry. However, prevalence does not guarantee effectiveness, and many companies today are investing valuable resources into BI deployments without reaping the full benefits of their investment. They too often miss the mark.
With any business initiative, following established, successful patterns can save on missteps and the overhead of reinventing the wheel. Take goal-setting as an example. There are established methodologies for goal setting which, if followed, can be the difference between increased performance and an exercise in futility. You've probably heard that goals should be S.M.A.R.T - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Similarly, there are 5 characteristics that make the difference between a high-impact BI deployment, and one that leaves you flat: VGBGR - Visible, Goal-oriented, Business critical, Graphical, and Real-time. (Unfortunately none of them start with vowels, so the closest-sounding word I could come up with to remember the acronym was Veggieburger. Maybe that doesn't bring to mind the most pleasant culinary images, but for now, just think Lean, Modern, and Healthy.)
Let's take them one at a time and I'll explain what I mean.
For BI to be effective and transformative to your business, it has to be in-your-face. Your BI dashboard has to be the first thing you see in the morning when you sit down at your desk, and the last thing you see before you grab your keys and head home. It can't be something you have to hunt down, look up, or assemble. If it's hard to access, you won't check it often enough, which means it won't adequately inform your decision making. But more about that when we get to the last characteristic: Real-time. Fortunately, emerging BI solutions for the SMB are making it easy to increase the visibility of your BI dashboard. Microsoft's Power BI and many other SaaS BI tools are cloud based, meaning you can access your dashboards from virtually anywhere on any device.
The value proposition of BI is that it helps you gain insights into your business data, which helps you achieve your highest-value business goals. But obviously, in order for your BI to assist you in reaching your goals, you first have to determine which goals are the most valuable to your company. Too often, we find companies measuring performance, but in isolation, absent of a specific goal or threshold that lets them know if they're on track. In other words, the performance areas you measure need a reference point in order to have meaning; it's not enough to know the score of a basketball game, you also need to know how much time is left on the clock.
Effective BI must "touch a nerve" to be effective. This is a case where less is more, where nice-to-haves need to be culled. There is only so much space available on your BI dashboard, and there's an optimal breadth and depth of data that you need to do your job effectively. Too much data, and it just becomes noise. The KPI's you track should be the ones that cause you to pick up the phone, call a meeting, make a budget decision, and shape your strategy. How do you determine what those are? At Blue Margin, we use a root-cause analysis we call BlueCore(tm) to get to the root issues that drive your decision-making. There are many such methodologies you can use to get to the kernel of what really matters, but at the very least, ask yourself, "What decisions do I make to succeed at my job, and what data do I need to successfully make those decisions?".
4. Graphical (and Interactive)
No matter who you are or what your preferred learning style is, a picture is worth a thousand words. Why? Because the goal of BI is to efficiently paint a picture of your business. A graph that intuitively communicates the trends in your business, that can be quickly and easily "consumed", is exponentially more valuable than the hour-long meeting or spreadsheet review it would take to tell you the same thing. And when that graph is interactive, allowing you to drill down into the data, the efficiency with which you can ingest information becomes greater still.
In today's dynamic, global economy, competitive companies can’t rely on a retrospective, “post-mortem” view of their performance; they need current data to remain nimble. For a BI dashboard to effectively inform timely decision-making, it must display data that is updated in real-time. Fortunately for today's business owner, modern BI software is such that once data connections are established, those connections persist, meaning data is updated automatically, in near real-time.
BI software is an incredibly valuable tool for gaining visibility into your business and keeping you on track to achieve your highest-value goals, but only if it is deployed correctly. If it does not meet the 5 characteristics outlined above (remember Veggieburger), you may not be getting the highest ROI for your BI investment.
If you are interested in reading more about any of the points described above, I'd recommend two great books. Now You See It by Stephen Few discusses how to choose KPI's to design effective dashboards, and The Game of Work by Charles Coonradt does an excellent job of describing how to adopt a mindset of a goal-oriented, data-driven business.
Your Colorado Microbrew Recommendation:
Sad Panda Coffee Stout - Horse & Dragon Brewing Co.
From the outside, Sad Panda looks like any other stout - dark as night with a creamy head. But as soon as you get the glass close to your nose, you'll realize that there is nothing ordinary about this beer. Its pungent vanilla, caramel, and coffee aroma may leave your nose confused, but after one sip, your tongue will be dancing to this bittersweet symphony of espresso flavor.