10 Keys for Successful BI Implementation
10 key elements that will help you create a successful BI implementation for your organization
There are no specific stone-carved set of rules when it comes to implementing a BI project. Consultants and Pundits make their own list of rules which they implement in their projects. Of course, every situation is different. Companies, market situation, and personalities involved all contribute to making a BI project unique in itself. But if you combine the ideas in this list with your own knowledge of your company’s unique qualities, you will be on your way to a successful implementation and a valuable business intelligence program.
1. Selecting Good Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
How does your company measure success? Seems a pretty simple question right? But an astounding number of executives can’t answer it.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are metrics and measurements that indicate whether the company is living or dying. Measuring and managing KPIs is one of the most important goals of any business intelligence solution. The insights gained from BI should lead to better decisions — followed by actions that will lead to better performance which will show up later in the KPIs. Here, the idea is that, if you have picked your KPIs wisely, the business will prosper over the long term.
Choose KPIs that are in line with your business goals. The measurement of your company’s success needs to be industry-specific indicators. These metrics may mean little to anyone outside your line of business, but to the executives at your company, they make the world go around.
2. Adjusting The Recipe
There is a sea of advice out there, that tells you how to implement a BI project. The number of technologies and best practices are so many, that the list seems to be never-ending. But there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Organizations are too complex for that. Two seemingly similar business problems rarely look the same up close.
Since the business problems are unique, the BI solutions need to be tailor-made as well. Research on lots of options and take a combination of the best ideas and answers that fits your business. Bottom line is, use what works for you.
3. Make Complexity A Part Of Your Life
Most of the BI technology vendors and consultants make it all sound so easy: install this, configure that, and presto, you have a business solution that will send your business and your revenues through the stratosphere.
I wish it were that easy and straightforward as the diagrams look on the paper. But when you dive deep into the details, you will find a pool of complexities eagerly waiting for you.
Planning for complexities is the best way to protect yourself from its negative effects. Always assume that the problems will take longer to solve in a BI project. Give yourself more time than you need. Don’t rush.
And most importantly, adopt and enforce core processes that can be adapted to suit all kinds of problems. That way, if you find that a challenge is different than the way you initially anticipated it, your team will be flexible enough to change the path without coming to a complete stop.
4. Thinking And Working Outside The Box
You might have heard this cliche a number of times, but it is an important one. To find success in your BI projects, there are times when you have to throw away the books and think about things in a different manner. You have to set your ideas free from their cardboard prison.
If you can get your team to think in a unique way, you are likely to build a solution that takes the best advantage of the unique strengths of your company and your team.
5. Picking A Winning Team
Your BI implementation will only be as good as the team of people that design, build, and support it. Since business intelligence systems are directly related to the company, you need to have project members that understand both, the technology and the business aspects of the task at hand.
It’s not just about finding the experts in their fields; you want to find people with the right attitude. A BI project is not a shiny straight road along the seashore. It's a roller coaster ride. So you need people in your team who will enjoy the ride with their hands in the air and big smiles on their faces. Rather than people who will turn green with every dip and turn.
6. Doing Your Homework
Business intelligence is an ever-evolving discipline, and there are tons and tons of knowledge out there — in books, papers, blogs, and various other formats.
Never assume that you know it all. Always remain a learner of the game. Keep updating yourself with the latest BI technologies relevant to your organization and also ask your team to do the same.
7. Never Forget Your Past (Especially Mistakes)
There will be plenty of roadblocks and pitfalls that you will face throughout your BI journey. And you just can’t avoid it. The trick is to remember what you did, make note of how the mistakes could have been avoided in the first place, and figure out the best way to tackle the situation should it happen again.
BI project teams succeed because they take full advantage of their experience. And we’re not just talking about the BI know-how; it’s also about knowing the organization and the business in and out. This becomes critical in identifying the resources and understanding the company-specific challenges. Which in turn helps in finding the optimum solutions.
8. Considering Corporate Culture Completely
Just like humans, every organization is a character on its own.
So before setting off on your big BI adventure, you should consider giving your company a quick personality test.
How does the company operate?
How it’s organized?
Where the power is and how decisions are made?
All these questions should be a part of your planning process.
Successful BI projects always consider corporate culture in the early information gathering and design phases. Most of the organizations fall in any one of the below two categories.
Centralized: In centralized enterprises, the outlying teams are operationally subordinate. And the main power rests with the executives.
De-Centralized: A de-centralized culture means that decision-making power is distributed among the teams as well. And that the decisions made at the top of the organization are merely starting points of negotiation.
Design your BI projects and the system itself according to the company. That way your project is aligned with the culture, and you will get more cooperation from the people who hold the power.
9. Just Go One Phase At A Time
The possibilities of your BI project are virtually infinite. You can connect every operational data of your company through data warehouses, collect data from each and every department of your organization, feed it to a sweet data visualization tool, derive insights for each and every team, and then you are ready to engrave your name in the history books of the organization.
It's great to dream big and shoot for the stars, but the process I discussed above might take years to execute. And the executive leadership rarely has patience for such massive projects.
Most companies prefer to move step by step and more cautiously when money is being spent. They like it when the projects can show small scale successes along the way as opposed to making a big splash.
Take your BI vision and divide it into manageable phases. Each phase should have:
- Well-defined scope
- Tangible deliverables
- Benefits that can be demonstrated to one and all
- Modest time-horizons
If your project is going to take half a decade or more to complete and implement, then you really need to consider breaking your plan into smaller pieces and take it one step at a time.
10. Adopting A Bigwig
Every project needs a high-level project sponsor who’s wise, well-linked, even-handed, and ready to roll his or her sleeves and get things done.
BI projects are especially vulnerable to internal skepticism because they are often not well understood. And because the projects can touch so many pieces of an organization, it's important that you have friends in high places. Whether they are directly involved in the project is not nearly as important as just having their genuine moral support. You need a person who is pretty good at knocking the roadblocks that come in the way of your BI project.