Today’s businesses rely on data for decision-making. They need to know where a process has broken down, where bottlenecks are occurring, or where opportunities lie.
Many systems, both internal and external, produce data to provide us with the insight we need to make those decisions. However, to get this information, data often has to be combined or manipulated and later represented in a manner that clearly communicates that insight.
While Excel sheets may work for a while, eventually successful business processes grow beyond the capability of a spreadsheet-based reporting system. Having various team members write their own logic and create their own macros becomes cumbersome, especially when different logic is used in different spreadsheets, creating confusion.
Having a business intelligence tool that streamlines access to data and report creation can improve business performance — if the BI solution is modeled on the business. Modeling the business is foundational to building a BI solution that delivers ROI. If the solution is designed without a complete picture of how the business operates and what individual users need, it will be only partially successful. Here’s a process you can use to model your business when you start working on a BI project.
- Get Insights From the Users
First, sit down with the users of the analytics to find out what they currently have as well as what they wish they had. Ask business-related questions, rather than technology questions, to understand from a business perspective what they need in order to do their jobs better. Ask about the problems they’re facing, and learn what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s a good idea to meet with several people from different areas of the company to get everyone’s perspectives and learn everyone’s needs.
Also consider data definitions in this step— defining the data in the terms the users are familiar with, rather than those of the systems they use. Keep in mind that different roles may define these terms differently. This is a critical step (and one that doesn’t even involve technology) to getting everyone on the same page when looking at your reporting and dashboards. Behind the scenes, this helps you define the vocabulary of your model.
Finally, look at business drivers to learn how each area of the business and each business process is being measured. This will frame the importance of the data sources and the calculations you will need to create in order to add to the model that fits both the drivers and the vocabulary of your users.
For example, one company had one report that contained all their data, so they were very careful and spent significant effort to ensure that only the right customer’s data was included in customer reports. By involving all the people who were spending time using Excel to extract the right data from that report, the company ended up with reports that were easier to slice and present data to their customers in a more consistent manner without the risk of accidentally sending the customer the wrong data.
- Determine What Levels of Data Are Needed
Next, look at what level of detail users should have access to. Depending on the individual’s role in the company, a given user will need different levels of detail than another user — a financial analyst vs. a C-level executive, for example. End users are typically used to dumping data and then trying to make sense of it, when starting with a proper model would allow them to start at a high level and allow them to drill down into smaller data points.
For example, if a user wants to learn how much revenue should be realized for a given month, a series of business rules that take into account data from several systems need to be applied. Those rules might stack differently if the time slice is changed, and you don’t want users to have to rewrite the rules every time they need to look at a different time slice. Users need to be able to look at individual metrics or at a single table to spot trends.
- Map Out the Model
Based on the insight you gathered from the end users and what you’ve learned about the business, map out the simplest and most reusable model that can be built. Consider what might change in the future and make sure that the platform is easy to update as developments occur. Also ensure that all data being pulled is coming into one central place and determine what logic should be built into the platform to create the reports.
Modeling the business is absolutely essential for a BI solution that meets the needs of the various users and helps the company reach its goals. Without it, you’re simply hoping that the platform will achieve the objectives and deliver the ROI that you’re looking for.