When Addressing Business Intelligence Where Does One Start?

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Organizational data needs are universal. Problems with processing that creates, updates, and manages data are ubiquitous.

With all the data, and the problems, and the needs, just how does one start to bring harmony to this informational confusion? How does one tame the data beast to start making tangible progress toward an organization’s business intelligence goals? Priorities between and across initiatives and projects fill any organization’s “To Do List.” Projects that achieve focus are those that are seen as the most critical of needs. As these critical and often large projects advance, virtually everything else on the list may end up resource-starved. It is rare for the business intelligence project to be identified as the most critical need. After all, getting functionality out to external customers will always trump internal needs. Agile quick-fixes to individual reporting problems also serve as an escape-valve for much business-intelligence-need steam. Should lightning strike and the business intelligence project be deemed the “critical one,” it will be because of a spectacular sales job made by a gifted champion. Most businesses will not have the conditions necessary to make this business intelligence first ordering of priorities occur. For any progress to occur on the business intelligence-side, then tasks, projects and goals need to be fashioned into small steps along a much larger path.

As the possibilities for these small projects are enumerated, the sheer volume can be daunting. Among the array of options, where does one start? Generically, the best start involves the basic pillars of an organization’s information framework. An obvious first prospect is master data. Master data and reference data are the glue that tie an organization’s solutions together. If an organization has not instituted an ERP for integrating and managing customer, product, or other such information, a first step might be investigating what the organization wishes to do in order to organize these details. Plenty of off-the-shelf ?solutions exist, but each choice has learning curves and startup customizations to address. Other options, such as the generally marginalized home-grown solution, need to be addressed cautiously. No organization should need to build an industrial ERP/CRM tool from scratch; but if needs are indeed smaller and defined, the answer could evolve into some variation of an Operational Data Store [ODS]. If an ODS is appropriate, then once that is pieced-together, considering the building of conformed dimensions is now another possible small step project.

If master data and conformed dimensions have been addressed, the next likely steps have already become obvious. The adroit business intelligence champion should focus on possible small projects that have a high return for the organization. Projects that have high visibility across the organization are good choices too, even if of lesser financial impact. Business intelligence, like any other initiative, has a political-side as well. The more pre-disposed organizational leadership is toward business intelligence, the easier it may become to move forward faster. Ideally, once the first pieces become visible to the user-community and the users are able to use it and “play” with it, then momentum can be gained to attack the larger data-need bites.

If confusion still exists, involve the executive team, dive into determining the perceived key metrics that allow a glimpse into the health of the organization. Acknowledge tasks that are directly involved with those metrics as the top priority and focus on those tasks until things are up and running. Overall, keep in mind that while small steps are the practical approach, you must avoid steps that are too small and provide no value. Ideally, each step should have visible elements or clearly understood advantages to the business once each step is in place. Also, the term “small steps” is not meant to imply that those steps should be approached as “filler” work in-between other tasks—doing things in piecemeal fashion poses other dangers and problems.