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Originally published July 22, 2008
Getting your organization out of the legacy information rut and excited about a business intelligence (BI) program that leverages information assets to deliver business performance improvement is no small task. Many BI program managers I have spoken with are frustrated because their BI programs are foundering, and they are having a hard time justifying the money they are spending to develop BI applications. These BI program managers struggle to get their business users to move beyond ordering up data downloads and adding data elements to OLAP applications. They often have little, if any, insight into how BI applications are being used by business users and are often limited to defining and defending BI success by counting increases in BI application logons.
Advancing the maturity of a BI program beyond delivering the same legacy information using BI tools requires getting business organizations to rethink information assets and to understand the potential power of BI. Business intelligence can go far beyond reporting and ad hoc queries, serving as a strategic business performance improvement enabler. To evolve your BI program to this point, however, requires active business leadership, participation and buy-in. It also involves a willingness to change. To significantly mature a BI program requires changing what we do and how we do it both at the IT level and at the business level. Since people tend to be creatures of habit, creating the appetite and willingness for change is hard work. That is where marketing comes in. The following are some guidelines for creating a successful BI marketing effort:
First, understand the problem: Information paradigms in most organizations have revolved around delivering reports and the idiosyncratic, individual specification and use of information. Unlike business processes that are commonly understood by the business, organizational processes around how information is used to support the business have always been ill-defined. Whether the information delivery organization that preceded the BI program organization was called the MI (management information) department, or the DSS (decision support services) department, these organizations typically served as “order takers,” responding to business stakeholders’ commands to deliver data downloads, new reports or enable new user queries. If we are going to make progress in our BI program, we need to find a way to instill new information paradigms into both the business and IT organization.
Next, size up the organization: An important next step in creating a successful BI marketing effort is to understand business organization dynamics. First, we need to identify who within the business organization has the potential to provide the leadership and inspiration for the business to get on board with a BI program that delivers true business impact. Ideally, we have C-level or senior VP-level business leadership identified as targets for our BI marketing efforts. Additionally, we need to determine the individuals in the business organization who are key influencers of organizational behavior. We would like to target them to serve as enthusiastic agents of change as BI opportunities are identified and high-impact BI applications are delivered. Since organizational inertia is often hard to overcome, we need to ensure that the business organizational dynamics are aligned in our favor as we set forth with our BI marketing efforts. We also need to size up the BI program organization. What types of business and technical skills do we and don’t we have? Assuming that we get buy-in from the business organization on moving forward with a new and improved BI initiative, we need to be honest about how well positioned we are to deliver on the promise.
Then, move out on a plan to educate and inspire: While it sounds obvious, the underlying reason that many organizations have not gotten further in using their BI programs to support improved business performance is that they were not aware of the opportunity. Going back to our discussion on understanding the problem, many organizations view BI as a new and improved way to deliver legacy information. In quite a few organizations, the purchase of a BI tool has served as the sole reason for declaring the existence of a BI program. Educating the key business stakeholders as well as the BI program organization about different levels of BI maturity and the opportunity that exists to use BI to achieve competitive advantage is an important step in creating interest and support for advancing current BI capabilities. There are documented BI case studies that can be used to illustrate examples of organizations that have achieved quantifiable business performance improvement through developing enabling BI capabilities. Education efforts should also include information on what it will take to achieve high-impact BI capabilities and how this differs from how BI has been currently approached by your organization. Information on BI industry best practices and the rationale for these approaches are key to achieving organizational understanding and willingness to change. Education efforts should result in a common understanding of current in-house BI capabilities and approaches, how they compare to industry best practices and the benefits that can be realized by improving upon them. In the end, education is successful when it inspires stakeholders to take action to advance BI capabilities and approaches beyond the current status quo.
Followed by developing and marketing BI strategy: Once key business stakeholders have been educated on BI and have been convinced of the potential that exists to use it to achieve competitive advantage, it is important to follow up with specific BI opportunities that exist in your organization and to explicitly outline a business case for how these opportunities can deliver tangible business value. BI industry requirements best practice approaches can be used to identify BI opportunities for your organization. Involving the key organizational business influencers in this exercise is important since their buy-in and support will be critical to the success of organizational marketing and communications efforts. Key signs of a successful marketing effort are seen in the active interest, participation and involvement of business stakeholders as you outline the BI strategy and explain how it will provide opportunity to improve business performance in line with organizational business goals.
A key success factor is positioning to deliver: Once you have achieved business interest and enthusiasm for your BI strategy, ensure that you have the in-house skills and capabilities to deliver. Make sure that your BI applications are designed to perform, and that they deliver high-quality, trusted business information. A well-architected BI environment stands the test of time, both short-term and long-term.
And remember, success requires a constant reminder that “It’s all about the business”: While delivering a BI application and completing training and user acceptance often signals the end of a project, it is only after the business employs the BI capability and uses it that business performance improvement can be achieved. It is important that key business stakeholders understand this and manage the business process changes that are needed to leverage new BI capabilities to achieve performance improvement. When business intelligence is truly seen and understood as a business enabler, success will follow.
Finally, don’t be shy in marketing your BI success: As the saying goes, “success breeds success.” BI business success should be actively marketed so that the business organization becomes aware of how BI has played an active role in achieving business performance improvement. It is only when BI successes are quantified and communicated to the business that the BI organization will be viewed as a critical business strategic partner that is given a seat at the table.
While the possibilities are there to naturally evolve the strategic importance of your BI program, developing and executing a well-thought-out marketing plan will accelerate this process and increase the odds of success. Marketing efforts are instrumental in educating and aligning the organization about BI potential and in achieving enthusiasm for taking action to achieve improved BI program success.
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