BI Value: Getting the Most from Your Investments

Originally published May 21, 2013

Organizations struggle constantly with the concepts of return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) in relation to their business intelligence (BI) investments. Over the years, many businesses have implemented BI with diverse goals in mind, but can only cite saving time as an actual benefit of their BI adoption. The benefits and perceived value before an implementation are not always seen the same way post-implementation. To bridge the gap and ensure success, organizations need to find a way to get more value from their BI investments, but they also need to set realistic expectations about what actual ROI, TCO, and value proposition mean in relation to analytics and data management initiatives.

This has been one of the struggles of BI. Most organizations understand the benefits that can be realized through adoption and feel that it is a necessary next step, but they can’t always achieve the desired results due to lack of resources, information access, or improper tool selection. This article provides an overview of the historical challenges surrounding the ability to identify the practical benefits associated with adoption as well as how technology advancements will help BI value become more intuitive to organizations.

Why BI Can Fall Short

As mentioned, many organizations struggle with their BI implementations. With the importance placed on information management and analytics, many decision makers roll with the adage “build it and they will come,” hoping that once a BI solution is in place it will be widely used and provide additional value to the organization. The harsh reality for many of these businesses is that “they” don’t come. People are resistant to change and often stuck in their current processes. They don’t understand the correlation between a new implementation that might require training/extra time and the eventual cost savings and value of that implementation. In addition, too much emphasis is placed on the technology itself. There is a definite advantage to selecting a tool with a certain amount of bells and whistles that make it easier to:
  • Manage the solution

  • Develop customized interactions

  • Enable collaboration

  • Make changes and data additions easily and whenever required

  • Provide easy access to multiple types of users – from those well versed in technology to those unsure of how to become proficient
But many organizations struggle with balancing expenditures with project scope, licensing and support, making it difficult to take into account all of these aspects and place equal importance on each. After all, is it more important to spend more now on developing an infrastructure that can support more complexity and diversity in the future, or is it better to get a set of easily accessible dashboards up and running to prove the value of quick access to data? The list of questions is endless when trying to weigh the benefits and risks of developing an analytics framework that supports business decision making. Consequently, understanding what value means to project sponsors and important stakeholders is the starting point for taking BI to the next level and aligning general perceived value with what needs to happen to make this a reality.

Required Resources

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) seem to stumble across the issue of not having the bandwidth to take on larger IT-related projects because of a lack of resources or skill sets. This issue, however, is not always limited to SMBs and can be reflected in different ways in larger enterprises. After all, why do things take so long to get done? In some cases, this occurs due to lack of available resources, while in others it may be because of project overload or lack of skill sets.  

The ability to get solutions up and running quickly and effectively are key points to providing BI value. For organizations struggling with this, vendor professional services or external consulting services and support may be a good way to get past time- and skill-based roadblocks to implementation.

Information Access

There is a tendency to underestimate the value of data assets. Organizations struggle with determining which data sources are required for analytics, latency and access. In addition, they need to understand who requires what information and how much of it they need to do their jobs. Coupled with security and regulatory requirements, this creates potential challenges to implementations and the risk of providing too much or too little information access overall. Implications for not doing this right are large. Obviously, there is always potential to take an iterative approach to development, which is important when looking at experience and access. For data-related initiatives, however, it is imperative to make sure that information access makes sense in the beginning, or at least that access changes can be made easily.

One of the biggest complaints for many people interacting with spreadsheets and reports is the lack of access to data. Instead of having to integrate multiple sources manually, BI provides access to a centralized repository whereby analytics can be developed for a variety of reasons and customized according to need.

Essential Software Selection

All of this leads to the realization that certain things need to be in place in order to get value from a BI investment. This is where software selection can make a difference. Defining business requirements and how they relate to technology and systems requirements are the first steps to understanding the BI value chain. Making the right software choices will affect time to value by:
  • Ensuring easy integration – through connectors that can help speed up the consolidation of disparate data sources

  • Enabling broader autonomy and flexibility in design and delivery

  • Allowing IT and business units to be partners in development and share responsibility for maintenance and delivery over time

  • Providing relevant analytics that align with overall strategic and tactical goals
Because different options exist that affect implementation times, ease of use, data discovery capabilities, and so on, this step can actually either ensure success or create additional challenges to the BI value proposition.

A Look to the Future

The business intelligence industry is fast-paced with technological advancements occurring at regular intervals. The choices made now will affect how solutions can be leveraged in the future. These choices can also affect whether or not a current infrastructure will be able keep pace with market changes. More important than this is whether current solutions or proposed applications can address the challenges being faced now and how value is perceived and measured within the organization as well as at individual department levels.

  • 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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