Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Building a Winning Case for Business Intelligence - Part 1

We’ve all read the marketing blurb, and industry analysts tell us over and over again that “Business Intelligence helps you make better decisions” What I never hear is “Great, that’s just what I need – where do I sign?” But “improved decision-making” is how the business value of BI is often described. No wonder the process of building a strong business case for BI is so elusive. How do you measure the effect of a better decision? How do you determine the quality of a decision to start with? And how can you predict how other decisions might have played out? You could go round and round without putting pen to paper, and the initiative never sees the light of day.

Of course the mission of BI is to support decision making, but arguing a case where that is the central issue will be difficult without being able to demonstrate the impact your BI project will have to resolve it. 

In the real world, organisations look to BI to meet a particular departmental or organisational need, either strategic or operational, and to get the green light often involves a technical team having to define and pitch a solid business case to a sceptical business audience of senior management. This is especially true now as budgets continue to face increased pressure to deliver value, but on a strict fiscal diet. So it’s important to clearly map out how the issues (or pains) can be addressed by the benefits your project can deliver, where the metal meets the meat (…so to speak).

When it comes to assessing the impacts BI can have on the business, typically it relates to particular pains – for example – Mr Analyst “It takes me days to analyse data from several sources” Ok, now we’re talking. Any CFO is going to appreciate the benefit to the business of a highly paid analyst not having to spend their time on that task, so they can focus on a higher valued activity. 

And to add weight to what is an intangible benefit (saving time), we can outline a potential tangible one in numbers that make sense (saving money).

For example - Annual Salary divided by total working days a year = Y amount multiplied by X number of days spent on a manual task = a monetary value.

Of course the analyst is still potentially getting paid, but you can emphasise the cost benefit of getting X more productivity days out of him or her.

Now all this might seem obvious, but unfortunately many organisations do not formalise the benefits case for their BI projects, and this can lead to wild expectations and disappointment with the outcome, or worse a failed project and a continuing overreliance on Excel-based point solutions (I know, and to think we’re in the 21st century!?)

Through defining the benefits and the impact those benefits will have, you’re on your way to getting your project off the ground.

As a goal, the best business case will aim to show as much of a return on the investment
made in BI as possible. In most other areas of IT, that can be easily worked out, but in BI it’s more challenging as it requires (among other things) a level of upfront investigation that goes beyond what people are used to, and can take a project team outside of their comfort zone – e.g. having 1 to 1 interviews with senior directors to get to the heart of what’s really going on…”Ouch”.

But just like a doctor, a BI Business Case can’t really be expected to prescribe a solution
for the business without a proper diagnosis. This is a process we often support our customers in going through, providing a framework that helps a project team to go beyond surface issues, to uncover the true extent of what’s wrong, and how the solution can address it. The impact can then be conveyed to the business in their terms.

So there’s no getting away from it, building a winning case for Business Intelligence is tough, and because of that you may feel the need to lean on intangibles that cannot easily be assigned a pound value such as “improved decision-making”. But with focus on the benefits, and being able to map those benefits to business impacts that key stakeholders and decision makers can identify with, you’re leaving less to the imagination.

Part II coming soon …

Written by Lee Grogan, Sales Manager, DSCallards

For more information visit www.dscallards.com.

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