Getting Value from Business Intelligence

In a stroke of marketing genius, data tools providers have begun to focus their identity around the term “Business Intelligence”. The result is that the market for these types of tools has grown significantly and isn’t projected to slow down. If you take away the fluff and vague promises, these tools provide good service, but not business intelligence. When you need to do reports, build dashboards, perform data mining, etc., these tools are there to help. The problem is that the tools are just tools. While you need good tools and a solid infrastructure, real business intelligence comes from people. People who know the data and the business and can use the tools to analyze the data and bring an objective perspective on the company’s performance in the past, present and future.

What these tools provide is the foundation. You get what is necessary to get value from business information, but not real business value. Value comes when you know what you need to learn and how to pull the data together to achieve that objective. No tool provides value, just the means to get the value.

Too many companies start a business intelligence initiative by doing a tools search, believing that it is the tools that provide the value. Most companies have at least a basic set of business intelligence tools. I always recommend taking advantage of what you already have before starting a tools search. If you use what you have until those tools no longer can give the service needed, you can at least enter the business intelligence tools market as an informed consumer, clear on what you need to accomplish.

I propose that the first step should be to either identify, cultivate or acquire a data analyst who can learn the business so that they can understand what the data is saying. Without context, data is just noise. A good data analyst can separate the signal from the noise and using quality tools, provide real value from information to the organization. That real value comes from the analyst being able to align the strategy for business intelligence to the strategy for the organization. To be aligned, those strategies must be communicated and understood. Finding a resource who understands the business and can effectively handle the tools is difficult, but completely worth the investment.

Once that person is identified, the next step is to create a process through which data and tools come together to create intelligence. The process helps the company stay focused on the objective. The objective must be aligned to a business value objective and most find success by starting small and growing, building on successes. Make sure there is a review step for every process so that the next objective is informed by the success or issues related to the previous effort.

Real business value is realized when there is an alignment between the organization’s strategies and the business intelligence strategy and when people can understand the business of the organization and the tools used to deliver business intelligence. It is the alignment of strategy and the ability of people to evaluate data in the context of the business’ operations that creates real business intelligence.