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Practical Steps for Small and Mid-Sized Companies Adopting Business Intelligence

Originally published April 21, 2009

The goal of business intelligence (BI) is to enable better decision making. By having a full view of sales, customers, information about trends, etc., and by being able to forecast and use predictive models to analyze what is happening both inside and outside the organization, companies can evaluate the appropriate data to make informed decisions. In addition, individual departments and managers need to understand the implications of their actions and decisions on the company as a whole. Add to this the requirement for intra daily analysis (operational BI), and business intelligence becomes a tool that is essential in the day-to-day running of the business.

As always, all of this is easier said than done. The issue becomes not what the benefits of business intelligence are, but how to implement a solution that can provide added value and cost savings to organizations. This article offers some suggestions about how mid-sized companies can get the ball rolling and embark on the road to a BI environment. With a focus on addressing the business issues, and overlapping those with project management principles, this article steps away from the traditional focus on technical requirements and information architecture toward the human elements that can make or break any BI project.

Starting Small and Taking Incremental Steps

When adopting business intelligence, small and mid-sized organizations should start small. Even though there is talk of enterprise-wide BI and developing an organization-wide approach to business intelligence, that is mostly valuable for companies that already have mature BI environments. For organizations that are committed to starting a BI evaluation and implementation, the best way to achieve success is to address one business pain and to develop a solution that tackles that pain.

The trick becomes implementing a solution that meets the requirements of the current business problem, but can also grow with the organization to meet additional requirements as time goes on. Some larger organizations implement solutions at a departmental level, meaning that many different solutions may exist within the organization at any one time. For smaller organizations, this might not be feasible. And even if it is, depending on the goals of the organization and the time it takes to align solutions across the organization, this approach might not be the most practical.

Goal Alignment

Although first time BI projects should focus on one issue, aligning initial projects to organizational goals becomes key to ensuring a successful project. For instance, the ability to show how solving a particular business problem will help an organization attach value to their overall goals helps ensure management buy-in that might be required to get the ball rolling. To align goals effectively, it becomes important to identify how business intelligence will help or support strategic goals. Examples might be the use of business intelligence through customer analytics to identify consumer buying habits or the identification of why customer retention is dropping, and then tying these to either marketing initiatives or to finding ways to increase retention. It is possible to find links between goals that align with corporate strategy or that are beneficial to the organization as a whole. Even though there is inherent value in business intelligence solving business pains, in order to get the most worth out of a solution, there need to be components that are broader focused and forward-looking to help tie current initiatives to those that have far-reaching effects.

Buy-In and Stakeholder Management

Attaining management buy-in and getting stakeholder involvement cannot be overlooked. In general, people understand the value of involving management and getting their support beyond the traditional budget sign-offs. But in many cases, other stakeholders are overlooked. The ability to achieve end-user adoption ties in to identifying stakeholders. This goes beyond simple budgeting requirements toward the inclusion of future end users into the product design itself. Simply put, people are more likely to adopt a solution or new way of doing something if they’ve had a hand in designing it. Therefore, when evaluating solutions, it becomes important to have the involvement of those who will be using the solution, managing it and maintaining it in order to ensure overall buy-in. When stakeholders feel that they have contributed to the overall solution, they are more likely to use the solution and be spokespeople for that solution. For the eventual expansion of business intelligence across the organization, or for future collaboration, this becomes important.

Understand Organizational Information Requirements

The fact that business intelligence requires the identification of information requirements, an understanding of how technology works within the organization, and how infrastructure interoperates with available solutions means that to properly implement an initial solution, it is important to understand the overall data requirements and how solutions interoperate. When it comes to on-demand solutions, however, organizations can focus on the metrics required as opposed to how all of the pieces fit together. Some general considerations include identifying how often the information is required, defining the required algorithms and metrics to monitor, and identifying the kinds of analyses for the business problems at hand.

Know What Deployment Options Exist

Aside from the information required, organizations should ask the appropriate questions, such as: How should the solution be managed? Should it be developed in house? Or should the solution be hosted? These considerations might affect maintenance and ongoing costs. Therefore, not only are organizations required to understand their information, but also how different types of business intelligence will affect their maintenance, ongoing costs and future expansion. Overall, the more knowledge an organization collects about what solutions are available and how to best leverage potential solutions within the organization, the more likely a BI solution will help solve the business pain it set out to solve.


Business intelligence solutions are becoming more essential within the overall framework of business management and development. For organizations to stay competitive, it becomes essential to be able to analyze and define metrics to set goals and hopefully exceed targets. For small and mid-sized organizations, there are now more solutions than ever without the required costs and infrastructure of enterprise companies. This, however, does not make the initial implementation of these solutions any easier. By combining project management fundamentals with business process management ideals, the road to implementing business intelligence frameworks within the organization becomes more realistic. After all, business intelligence cannot be a long-term success if it exists in a vacuum.

  • Lyndsay WiseLyndsay Wise

    Lyndsay is the President and Founder of WiseAnalytics, an independent analyst firm specializing in business intelligence, master data management and unstructured data. For more than seven years, she has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Lyndsay conducts regular research studies, consults, writes articles and speaks about improving the value of business intelligence within organizations. She can be reached at lwise@wiseanalytics.com.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Lyndsay's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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