BI in the Modern World
The last two decades have spawned a revolution in technology. This is the age where a 2-year old can use a tablet with ease and 94-year olds have Facebook profiles.
When we use our favourite bit of ‘technology’, be it unlocking our phone to use an app, opening our favourite or most useful website, swiping our travel pass that uses NFC, we all expect a certain standard of product, and a minimum level of functionality.
What we also demand is that the product evolve to our ever changing needs, and flaws in the product, be it due to functionality or usability, are removed or else face being consigned to the bin as a competitor takes over. Use Google to find an image of the original eBay website. I guarantee that you will be surprised when you see it now if you remember using it then. And if it looked like that now would it still be used?
The modern IT consumer, regardless of platform or application, is much more in tune with the capabilities and potential of technology and before long the generations that have only ever grown up with the internet will be the corporate decision makers.
So where does this leave the BI function in the modern world?
Where it should always start...
Managing the data
For any analytical process to work the data that underlies the model must be robust. At a primary level the infrastructure must provide stable data storage, accurate ETL capability, and the ability to access the stored data as and when required, and balancing these competing factors has always been the foundation of a successful system.
The demands on the BI function in this area are now also the ensuring the performance of the system, the scalability of the architecture, accurate data retention and archiving, and providing an always available infrastructure to a global user community.
A solution that is slow, restricted by capacity, or no longer capable or flexible enough to meet the challenges in a changing world, will quickly lose support. Longer term use will diminish and before long there will be calls for its replacement.
And what of all of this data? What is to be done with it all once it’s neatly collected and safely stored?
Accessing the data
Where in the past analytics were generally consumed at an office PC, using data available only at a certain time of the day, and anything but the standard fixed format report required an increased level of access or technical understanding to generate, the modern technology consumer demands more.
High speed internet means data can be consumed anywhere; the advent of mobile devices has increased the variety of platforms for delivery; meanwhile users demand simpler cleaner interfaces that deliver more complex functionality.
The challenge to the BI team is providing interfaces with functionality that lives up to expectation in the modern age. Selecting the right toolset for the requirement is just as vital as the ensuring the data foundation is sound. Sometimes a solution on offer may feel like it the killer feature or upgrade to solve a problem, but if the trade off is have a reduction in usability or removal of certain functionality this can cause discontent.
The challenge can come from the fact that many users are much more understanding of the process to deliver the analytics, indeed it may well be that they have a level of understanding how the technology works or have seen how implementations have been done in other departments or organisations, and so are demanding similar.
The flip side is that the challenge often comes from there not being enough understanding of the user requirement, not enough time critiquing the status quo of the current offering, not enough looking to the future...
Improving the Analytics and Driving the Business
In the modern business environment it is now not enough just having technical specialists in the BI team.
Whether through closer collaboration with users whilst doing their roles, or by spending some time understanding the main KPI’s of a business function, getting exposure to what makes a day successful or what makes its projects fail, will result in an enhanced ability to develop the best solutions, give adoption of the solution its best chance.
Even when something has historically satisfied the requirement there should be a culture of review, and to always look for progress and improvement. Try using the tool you just implemented for a day or even a week. Is there any that you would find frustrating if you had to do it day in day out? Is there really nothing that you could improve on?
One thing that is for sure is that things will always change and change in the modern BI function can and should be embraced. Sometimes the greatest insights can come from looking at things we thought we had looked at already in a new way.
Imagine if Apple, Amazon, eBay, Google, Facebook, SAP, or any other successful technology company that infiltrates every facet of our lives, had stopped with its original offering. Through attempting to understand their consumer base and maximise revenues they have constantly changed and morphed their products. Sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtle, but never staying the same. This is not to say there isn’t risk as there will never be an acceptable solution for every need, but the greater risk is obsolescence, or loss of competitive advantage.
The BI team will always be a support function to the business, but by attempting standing side by side with the functions and helping and aiding them to improve and innovate, whilst always showing the ability to drive forward technology, there will be an increased trust and understanding of the challenges from all sides, and the organisation as a whole ultimately maximise the return on the original investment.
Business Intelligence Solutions Support Survey
If you’re open to contributing, we’d love to hear your views in a survey that we’re conducting.
The survey has 17 questions but we’ve carefully designed and tested it to ensure it can be completed quickly, it should take no longer than 10 minutes.
In return for doing so, we’ll send you a report on the study’s full findings and we think you’ll find the results to be of value to your business.