Seven success factors for building a Business Intelligence operation

25 August 2016

Ben Jones, a Senior Consultant at North Highland, reflects on how organisations can build and run a successful BI operation.

Now that Big Data is driving big companies, Visual Analytics is seen on more CVs, and Predictive Analytics is predicted to be the next big thing, there has never been a better time for strategic Business Intelligence (BI) investments. However, actually writing the business case can be one of the most significant hurdles.

This is often caused by a lack of unilateral buy-in, difficulties discussing technical complexities with the C-suite, and a gap between leadership opinions of BI capability (generally that it works well enough) and user opinions of BI capability (often that key information is missing, low quality or untrustworthy).

These are seven ways you can help you build a successful BI investment that is compelling, collaborative, and focused on driving benefit across your business.

The benefits of strategic data investments are rarely contained to one area of the business. De Beers had built their data landscape organically for years without an overall approach or framework, but they found that bringing together representatives from each major function allowed them to drive bigger benefits across the board. Collaboration will not only make the funding process easier, but will make delivery and benefits measurement easier too.

North Highland - Business Intelligence

Find out where key information comes from, how it is sorted, and who’s using it. Over a year on from a merger, Penguin Random House suffered some serious data inconsistencies. Developing a detailed understanding of their BI landscape let them paint an accurate picture of the current situation, highlight real business questions that can’t be answered today, and prioritise their investment so that high profile problem areas can be tackled first.

The road to a new strategic data platform can be long, often taking multiple years. Before defining their overall roadmap of change, the BI team at Sainsbury’s were delivering tactical initiatives to enhance their BI capabilities with little long-term planning or visibility of where they were heading. Having the steps on the roadmap outlined allowed them to highlight key issues and solve them. In particular, it’s a good idea to focus on how your business will operate during transitional phases when information in different systems may be contradictory. 

Having outlined the journey, choose a realistic amount to tackle in a single investment. Creating the largest centre for biomedical innovation in the European Union is a mammoth task; Francis Crick built their data future one step at a time, for example migrating all their employees to a new strategic platform. Getting sign off for an entire 5 year plan is not only difficult but also constrains you when the technical and competitive environments change. Returning regularly to investment bodies keeps everyone up to date on progress and prioritises early benefit realisation.

From infrastructure delivery to visualisation design, BI investments need a lot of different delivery approaches. Carnival broke this down using a business case, systems integration plan, and data migration workflow. Breaking up activities into logical groups with these kinds of artefacts allows you to use an effective delivery approach for each; using the same method for installing servers and defining business KPI’s is less likely to bring long term success.

Business Intelligence strategy

Go beyond writing for your audience and use a variety of communication techniques to tell your story. O2 used Creative Comms to bring life investments in subjects as boring as data sharing and governance. Diagrams of information moving from source systems to trading meetings are much more interesting than discourse on integration layers and data modelling approach. They also put your key points across 

There are as many ways to deliver BI as there are ways to run a business. John Lewis knew that they needed to make a big investment in their outdated data systems. They found that without an agreed Business Intelligence strategy they couldn’t ensure a common vision of the future and didn’t know how to structure their investments. If you don’t already have an enterprise BI strategy, then you have a great topic for your next business case! 

Ben Jones is based in North Highland’s London office. He has driven success in strategically important technology projects at some of the UK’s largest companies, including shaping major investments in cloud, business intelligence and digital application development.


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