One of the major categories of tools that helps drive the success of any organization, regardless of industry, is that of business intelligence (BI).
BI tools can collect volumes of data about what’s happening in your organization or what’s impacting it from the outside (e.g., industry, markets, customers/constituents). With proper implementation and utilization, BI can provide valuable insight into what your customers/constituents want, whether their needs are being met, and how to leverage technology to create efficiencies through business process automation. With this in mind, the information obtained from BI tools can be basic facts and numbers, or can be configured in a way that provides a more personalized and informed view of your customers/constituents, which can help facilitate and drive innovation that provides deep insight into their wants and needs. Using BI can be a difference maker in an organization’s long-range profitability and competitiveness in the private sector, or an agency’s ability to provide better constituent-focused delivery of services in the public sector.
BI helps in achieving better outcomes by applying a collection of technologies, methods, standards, policies, and principles. The process involves collecting data from multiple, disparate systems, analyzing and transforming this data into meaningful information, and representing this information in easy to understand formats, such as dashboards and reports. Use of BI tools ensures that the right information is provided at the right time so that decision making can be informed and fact-based. Advanced methods can extend into what is called predictive analytics.
One of the biggest challenges that public sector agencies face today is real or perceived issues with the provision of services to citizens and constituents. In most cases, I would argue that this is attributable to a lack of BI and performance management tools.
DeKalb County, Ga.—a county that I am honored to serve as CIO—is a public sector agency that understands the value of BI and analytics and leverages it strategically to enhance its ability to provide mission critical services to citizens and constituents. For example, the Police Services Department uses BI and predictive analytics as part of a smart policing initiative. The department sifts through large amounts of data and case files in order to focus their resources more effectively and efficiently. This helps prevent crimes from happening and, in turn, has lowered the crime rate. The effective use of BI and predictive analytics creates a domino effect to help achieve three of the county’s overall strategic priorities—enhancing public safety, which then leads to better ability to develop and maintain sustainable neighborhoods, and finally, promotes the ability to facilitate jobs and economic development.
Every bit of data that is available to an organization ultimately supports one or multiple business processes.
DeKalb County also realizes that BI technology alone is not the answer. The focus must be on identifying the questions that require answers —not focusing on the technology required to provide the answer. A multidisciplinary approach should be used that encompasses strategy, processes, data, and people. The technology is merely an enabler to provide quicker access, more agility, better consistency, and more reliability in fulfilling processes.
Once again, I will use DeKalb County as a great example. DeKalb County has a number of overarching strategic priorities with measurable goals attached to them. These strategies are aligned with specific initiatives, and associated outcome-based objectives are also created. Data from multiple systems is collected and monitored, and BI tools are utilized to aggregate the data and present it to stakeholders through easy to understand dashboards. Progress on outcomes is also constantly measured through identification, creation, monitoring, and reporting of key performance indicators (KPIs). Ensuring that processes are in place to enable turning strategy into action is key.
With this in mind, every bit of data that is available to an organization ultimately supports one or multiple business processes. Knowing what these are—and having processes and tools in place to collect and monitor them—provides a structured means of understanding the available information. The focus is on mapping the right pieces of data to the information elements of selected technology solutions and ensuring quality, consistency, and relevance.
Last, but certainly not least, effective BI programs start and end with people! Obtaining buy-in from stakeholders can be challenging, but, ultimately, people are responsible for turning strategies into actions and for driving innovation through BI.