Guide to Implementing Business Intelligence – 1 – Getting Started With Business Intelligence

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Business intelligence is about bridging the gap between the data collected and what data business people need to drive the business and improve. It’s taking that data and turning it into beneficial information that can be used to help your business progress. Although the tools do exist to help with this, many organisations only manage what they can measure which may not give the business value.

Organisations need to react to the information they’re been given as this is where the value is added, this is what we refer to as BI culture, creating the mindset within the organisation to ensure people are getting the best out the business intelligence solutions to ensure the business is able to move forward.

For a business intelligence solution to really add value, you need to start by considering your key performance indicators (KPI’s), these are the business information needs, what do you need to know to make better business decisions?

In order to define KPI’s you need to know what the vision of your business is. You need to start from the very top and work out what the goals are, what is the vision of your business and where are you taking it, this will enable you to work out what the critical factors are for success, once you know this, you can decide what KPI’s you need.

Once you’ve worked out which critical success factors these KPI’s affect you’ll need to ensure everybody knows what their KPI is (within any organisation it’s not uncommon for a KPI to be sliced by different parts of the business). Once everybody is working on their own KPI you can start to measure the results indicators which are essentially the results of activities in your business.

Implementing an effective business intelligence solution can be difficult because it’s often cross functional, the quality of the data is sometimes unknown and it’s not always all going to be under your control, or it may simply be a case of the KPI’s not being fully understood or clearly enough aligned to the data being used.

Another reason companies may find it challenging is because they often have long delivery cycles in their IT departments, for example, if you’re using a waterfall approach where you have to define the requirements up front, get them approved then go into a six month delivery cycle, quite often what you’re delivering isn’t what the end user requires any more because business has moved on. This means that to implement business intelligence solutions it’s strongly recommend that a more agile development approach is taken where shorter delivery cycles are used and the end user is continuously consulted (i.e. what they want, what their priorities are etc).

An effective way to ensure any data is moved and processed is the extract transform and load tool (ETL) which is there to move data from A to B and to process it. There are lots of ways this can be done, traditionally its hand crafted, this solution will work fine if you have people who are familiar with where they’re working, and they like handcrafting code. However, a senior manager who has the issue of change management and of controlling that source code will prefer to centralize it and have it in a tool to make it more manageable.

It can be very beneficial to have a ETL tool if you’re going to build a data warehouse as it will need to evolve and change with your business, in this case you’ll want a tool set that will rapidly allow you to adapt to your system. The ETL tools of today that are very centralized and multi user based, enable people to change the data and document the processing they’re doing as they build it, it’s a rapid development tool, so if your business is very complex and quickly evolving over time, an ETL tool would be recommended.

Your HR data is often key to most businesses, you need to know exactly who your staff are, what skills they have and the benefits they bring your business, more often than not they’ll also be one of your biggest costs.

In many cases it’s the HR data that will be the last to get pulled into a data warehouse because of the sensitive nature of the data but once you start to manage this data effectively, you can see at a glance things like retention, absentees and where people are struggling and this information can prove invaluable when it comes to the effective management of your business.

This data can be difficult to analyse though because any one person can have many attributes hanging off them, meaning you can have many dependants and many skills, however if you extract the HR data, into a data warehouse, you can actually overcome some of the issues intrinsically found, then you can normally find some invaluable information on how you can be managing your people more effectively.

A data warehouse appliance is an all in one solution, hardware, database software and networking software, that allows you to take data from disks, filter it, present it out and build queries from terabyte databases, it’s ideal for very large databases and very large data solutions.

A data warehouse appliance does not however grant immunity against the every day challenges business intelligence presents, the front end delivery solution still has to be designed and built and you’ve still got the demand of user requirements changing as well as data quality issues but a data warehouse appliance does allow you to process vast amounts of data in a much more optimal fashion.

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