How do you make all the components of your business intelligence systems and processes work together seamlessly? How do you plan out your business intelligence tools, training, and goals in a way that makes sure you get the most out of your investment? You create an effective business intelligence strategy.
A business intelligence strategy will help you systematically think through all of the components of not only setting up business intelligence technology, but coordinating all of the planning, objectives, personnel, and more to ensure that implementing your new solution is a success. It addresses every aspect of how your company uses data and takes stock of each action that implementing a business intelligence tool should affect.
With a business intelligence strategy, you’ll find clarity on questions like: How will we apply business intelligence tools to our operations? How are we going to get value out of our data by engraining it into our daily processes and thinking? And how can we measure success and get a return on our investment?
A business intelligence strategy will give you seamless access to the data that can help you know more about your own company, evaluate your processes and strategy with timely insight, and remove or prevent inefficiencies and risks. According to the 2020 Global State of Enterprise Analytics survey, 45% of businesses focus their data analytics efforts on creating new business models. This means that it’s likely that your competitors are using data to refine their business, remove possible blind spots in their organization, and listen to what works and what their customers want, rather than relying on gut-feel. They’re going to have more effective business models because their BI and analytics solution equips them to keep track of progress on their most important goals.
Every company naturally creates data about their customers, sales, traffic, and more by merely existing and doing business, so it is all too common to let strategy and planning around data and business intelligence fall through the cracks. Maybe you implemented a business intelligence solution that meets your needs for keeping your data organized, but you don’t know if you’re getting the desired results. Or maybe different departments have different solutions and it’s time to rethink how you use business intelligence. If you see inefficiencies in the way you use business intelligence, feel like you don’t have seamless access to data, or tire of the headache of not knowing which set of data to believe, then it’s time to revamp your business intelligence strategy.
In this article, we’ll walk you through every step of creating a business intelligence strategy that will work for your company and help you run toward your most important objectives with data.
Before we get into the weeds, if you want a greater understanding of business intelligence basics, such as what business intelligence is, what it does for your company, and the future of business intelligence, download our e-book all about it here before reading on.
1- Assemble a Leadership Team and Executive Sponsor
To successfully execute a business intelligence strategy that truly has organizational impact, you need executive buy-in. At this point of creating your business intelligence strategy, you will assign an executive sponsor for the project and then identify key stakeholders to involve in the strategy discussions. The support and direction of a leader who can influence policies and procedures, speak to the company’s long-term goals, and has the authority to allocate company money and time to business intelligence is essential. If you’re looking to create organizational change, you need the people involved who have the authority to make that change happen and that people will listen to.
Oftentimes, the executive sponsor for your business intelligence strategy will be your CIO or CTO, or whoever in your company can speak to both technology and business objectives. Your team of key stakeholders should include people in leadership who can speak to the needs of every area of your business, whether financial, marketing, customer service, or sales. Also involve anyone from executive leadership or executive boards who can speak to your long-term business goals and investments. These key players are necessary for creating a business intelligence strategy that will serve your company for the long-term, rather than having to switch gears when executives announce a new objective.
Next, designate a team for the technical implementation of your solution. The team that carries out the deployment of your business intelligence solution and plans for data storage and access is likely different from your business intelligence strategy leadership team. A business intelligence strategy team determines “How will we infuse BI into our business and how will BI affect it?” whereas the technical team will decide the specific technological requirements that get business intelligence up and running. One focuses on overall strategy and delivering business value, and one focuses on technical implementation.
2- Set Objectives for Business Intelligence with Key Stakeholders
Many companies’ business intelligence efforts focus solely on technology and data infrastructure, and while necessary, the most impactful part of implementing business intelligence is using it to change the way people do their jobs and to arm every employee with better information. While your business intelligence strategy will involve technology, the focus needs to be on how that technology will serve your overarching business goals. Technology always serves purpose.
With your team of key stakeholders, discuss and prioritize the business goals that you would like to spur on with your business intelligence strategy, and then outline particularly how business intelligence will support each goal. Don’t limit yourself in this stage. In a perfect world, what would you love for business intelligence to do for your company? Have all key stakeholders from each department weigh into the overall vision for your strategy and decide what objectives would have the greatest impact on the area they lead.
Once you solidify your goals, prioritize each based on their urgency or impact and decide which to accomplish first. If needed, you can choose to prioritize going after low-hanging fruit first, then expand to larger goals within your BI initiative. These small wins early on will help prove the value of your business intelligence strategy to other executives and also cement the benefit of learning a new tool for employees. When employees and leadership see the success of business intelligence in one department, it builds momentum for your strategy and spurs on trust and excitement for data-driven thinking.
Here are some powerful questions you can answer in this stage of your strategy:
- What are our key business goals right now? (Think about your goals for one year, three years, five years, and ten years down the road.)
- How will business intelligence support each of those goals specifically?
- Is there a specific problem or area that we need to address immediately with business intelligence?
- Is there a department that needs business intelligence first, or should our strategy plan for organization-wide implementation?
- What results do we need to see from our business intelligence strategy(qualitative and quantitative)?
- What is outside the scope of our business intelligence strategy currently and what should we plan to accomplish with business intelligence later?
3- Assess Current Data Infrastructure and Availability
Now that you have a clear understanding of your business goals, it’s time to start talking about the technical details of your business intelligence strategy. This discussion will most heavily involve your technical team, but the executive sponsor and key stakeholders should still participate to ensure alignment and speak to current processes and business needs.
In this stage of your business intelligence strategy you’ll answer:
- What data do you already have as relates to your objectives?
- What data and BI-related processes do you already have in place for data storage, organization, access, governance, etc.? What does or doesn’t work about those processes?
- What BI technology is currently in place and what does or does not work?
- What new data do you specifically need to reach your objectives? What data would be useful to start collecting?
- What external data sources could you benefit from, whether demographic data or data on competitor performance?
- Are there any new positions or personnel needed to execute your business intelligence strategy, or is moving forward merely a matter of updating technology and processes?
It’s often easiest to start asking these questions as relates to finance and sales data and then work from there, as finance and sales data is the most easily accessible for most companies. As you assess your data availability and processes for every objective or department and eliminate departmental data silos, you’ll start to see just how much data can truly be at your fingertips. Your strategy will help you finally start using all of your data to your advantage.
4- Choose a Business Intelligence Solution
Once you have fully assessed your available data and needs, it’s time to choose a business intelligence solution and set up a data infrastructure that will carry you through the life of your strategy. Your infrastructure planning should address four main areas: data collection and management, storage and capacity, visualization tools and dashboards, and access and governance.
Data Collection and Management
What data will you collect? Where will it come from and what type and format will it be? Who will manage and prepare the data? Who will ensure proper data entry, and what standards will you set for data collection and organization? Will you need to hire any additional employees to assist with your new data collection and organization processes?
Storage and Capacity
Fully explore your data storage options, whether off-site or on-premise. Your technical business intelligence team or even a business intelligence consultant will be able to weigh in on the benefits and drawbacks of each storage solution as it relates to your business goals.
Will one type of storage more reliably offer the level of security and governance needed for your industry? What will each option cost, and when can you expect to see a return on your investment? Will you have to move your data from your current storage solution to the new solution and how long will that take? Plan out your initial storage investment and capacity, and consider a solution that will allow you to scale your storage as your company’s data grows.
Data Visualization Tools and Dashboards
The delivery of insight through data visualization and visual analytics dashboards is essential to any successful business intelligence strategy. When you decide the scope of your business intelligence strategy and the intended internal audience for business intelligence, you will know what dashboards and visualization tools are most fitting for your organization’s needs.
Consider the data literacy level of your employees. How simple or complex should their dashboards be? Do they need a tool that is extremely interactive with drill-down capabilities, or will employees or executives need to only quickly check the status of key metrics and move on? All of this will affect which solution you choose.
Be sure to consider how the data visualization tool will coordinate with the long-term objectives within your strategy, not just the short-term. Ideally a data visualization tool or any business intelligence solution should have both immediate and long-term benefits. How can your BI strategy and the analytics tool you choose set you up to get a return on your investment both now and later? We often help organizations begin using data analytics tools like Tableau in one department that has an immediate need, then eventually the organization chooses to scale their business intelligence strategy and data visualization to further departments, purposes, and personnel once they see success.
When selecting an analytics solution, refer to your beginning conversations about the scope of your strategy. How will analytics be a part of each employee’s daily responsibilities? For each level of access, understand the type of data they’ll be looking at, and assess if the analytics tool delivers the data in a way they will understand and navigate with ease. Consider whether your employees need a mobile app or if a desktop-only tool would suffice.
In this stage of your strategy be sure to have key stakeholders speak to how employees will need to use the analytics portion of your business intelligence solution on a daily basis. This will help your technical business intelligence team (who mostly likely have advanced data literacy) plan the intricacy or simplicity of different dashboards and choose a solution that fulfills each department’s unique needs.
Data Access and Governance
Your CIO, CDO, or business intelligence technical team should speak to the levels of data access and governance needed for your new business intelligence strategy.
- Should you give certain employees or executives more access than others? What data will each employee or user access level see and who will have access to manipulating the actual datasets?
- What measures do you need to put in place to protect your company from external security threats surrounding your business intelligence solution?
- Will the chosen levels of access support or hinder your business goals or efforts to become a data-driven organization?
- What guidelines and policies do all employees need to agree to around data sharing and governance?
While your company could experience extreme benefit from giving employees from all departments access to greater insight and information, every company has a different level of data offense or defense necessary to maintain security and proper data use and their strategy should reflect that responsibility. By speaking with key stakeholders and your technical business intelligence team, you will find the perfect sweet spot that will help you move forward faster without opening your company up to data security threats.
5- Plan for Execution of Your Business Intelligence Strategy
Next, map out timelines and milestones for executing your business intelligence strategy. When will every component of your strategy be ready? Will you roll out the solution in phases to different departments or all at once? Exactly when will your data warehouse or storage solution be ready? When will you have analytics dashboards ready for each department, and what will the process be for rolling them out to employees?
Your strategy should delineate timelines and communication methods around the rollout of:
- Communication about the new business intelligence strategy itself and business objectives
- Your data storage
- New data collection practices and technology
- Your data analytics tool
- New security and governance measures
- Success measurement
For each of these components, answer:
- What will the timeline look like for this part of our strategy?
- Who will manage the timeline and success of that phase?
- Who do we need to communicate with about this phase? What do they need to know, when do they need to know it, and how will we communicate it?
- What metrics will we use to measure success, and who will follow up on those metrics? When should they share results with the rest of the business intelligence strategy team?
- Are there any roadblocks that could delay progress in each portion of our strategy? How can we preventively minimize those roadblocks or prepare?
In most cases implementing an overarching business intelligence strategy will include deploying new tools to employees who haven’t used business intelligence or data analytics consistently before. Whether that employee is a high-level executive or front-line staff, they should feel proficiently equipped to use the new solution to effortlessly inform their day-to-day decisions. It shouldn’t have to feel like a hassle for employees to utilize your business intelligence solution, and so much of that ease and confidence comes with effective, thorough training.
Training cements your return on investment when it comes to business intelligence. All your effort to create a business intelligence strategy and implement new technology is a waste of time and resources if employees don’t use the new solution. They can’t run toward your goals with data and partner in your strategy if they don’t know how to get to the data or if legacy thinking and processes get in the way. Training prevents both of those roadblocks to progress and cements your ROI. We promise, it’s not the step to skip.
We suggest reading this resource to create an effective training plan for the analytics portion of your business intelligence strategy, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re looking for help at this stage.
Above all your training strategy should focus on long-term improved data literacy for employees, not just a quick touchpoint meeting where they learn the tool, sign off on security and governance standards and move on. Your training timeline should extend long after initial deployment of your business intelligence solution. Training will equip employees with the practical skills they need to inform their daily responsibilities with data and should teach them just how important making data-informed decisions is to your company’s success.
Knowledge is power. Once employees start experimenting with data, they’ll feel more confident with every decision they make and their trust in data will grow. Equip them with the training they need to experiment and explore.
7- Launch and Measure
You’ve made it! After all your probing, planning, questioning, aligning, and collaboration, you created a business intelligence strategy! Don’t forget to measure your success and continue to measure after you complete each phase of your strategy, and we suggest letting employees know when you accomplish your business objectives and do it in a data-driven way. Take them along in your journey of success and measure that success faithfully so that you can share it with stakeholders and every member of your team.
Implementing a new business intelligence solution in a truly transformational way is no small feat, but with an effective strategy, you can maintain accountability for your timeline and objectives and get more done for your company with business intelligence. We work with companies in every stage of maturity when it comes to data analytics and business intelligence strategy, and we’re here to partner with you in your efforts to be a data-driven company.
looking for help with your bi journey?
read our guide to measuring the ROI of your business intelligence investment