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Companies that try to launch a new business intelligence (BI) initiative with the sole goal of quick wins and fixes forget one of the most important steps in the process: You must align the needs and expectations of the BI professionals, business executives, and what the organization aims to achieve.


Guest article by Hila Kantor, BI Consulting Team Leader at Sisense


BI professionals should take just a day or two before plunging into schemas, graphs, and KPI dashboards, to gather their users and pinpoint the most relevant KPIs for the project at hand. Remember: The metrics need to fit the organization, and not the other way around.

So keep in mind that the goal of BI should always start with the business and serve the business, and all metrics have to be flexible enough to accommodate the BI solution that the business actually needs, rather than the one that’s easiest for an analyst to create.

Step 1: Meet with Stakeholders, Make a List of Business Requirements

Time to completion: 1-2 days

Deliverables: Summary of business requirements

Written specifications are important, but don’t proceed to the next step until you’ve had meetings with all relevant executives, managers, and business users who will look at the data and dashboards on a daily basis. This will allow BI professionals to hear from the horse’s mouth exactly what it is their users expect to measure.

Remember, people can only improve what they measure, so if an executive plans on improving sales by quarter, but doesn’t have that metric set as a KPI, there will be a disconnect at the end of your BI project. If users need help narrowing down their KPIs, two good questions that will give some focus are: What makes the company better at what they do? What makes your department help your company do that thing?

Having these discussions will not only help BI professionals identify the needs of the users, but it will also force the users to isolate exactly what they want to know—a goal  that surprisingly even the biggest BI enthusiasts can overlook when it comes down to the fine details.

Questions to ask:

Basics:

  • What is the dashboard you need?
  • Who will use the dashboard, and who will receive its outputs?
  • When will the dashboard be used (real-time, hourly, quarterly)?

Processes:

  • How are decisions currently made?
  • Which data is currently missing, hard to access, or you want to know but can’t?
  • Why is the data currently difficult to analyze?
  • What data do you need to know to affect the decision-making processes?

Examples of KPIs by department:

Customer Service

  • Satisfaction Improvement
  • Customer Retention
  • Net Promoter Score

Marketing

  • Conversion rate
  • Marketing Qualified Leads
  • Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)
  • Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Social Media Reach

R&D

  • % of new product developments launched on time
  • Percentage of R&D cost for new products
  • Issues per project/iteration/sprint
  • Man hours in the project/iteration/sprint

Step 2: Identify the Key Business Questions

Time to completion: 2-3 hours

Deliverables: List of crucial business questions to answer

After gaining a deep understanding as to what users expect to see from the BI project, start visualizing the business process in a flowchart. This should not involve any data or widgets yet, but rather a way to visualize the processes themselves by illustrating the business process workflow in a diagram.

Stage Checklist:

  • Discover whether you need multiple dashboards, schemas, etc.
  • Gain the ability to describe the way in which your organization makes decisions
  • Understand how your company measures the quality of these decisions (e.g.: Marketing is focused on campaign performance, whereas Customer Success is concerned with account health)

Tips for creating your business process flowchart:

  • Start from the most high-level KPIs — the ones that might concern the most senior decision maker: ACV, growth, recruitment, etc. The lower-level metrics should be derived from the way you measure the high-level ones.
  • Aim to have less than 10 metrics you need measured, at least for starters
  • Focus on information over indicators, even if it means identifying the one measure that matters most (e.g., weighted average is always better than five different numbers)

Step 3: Draft a Real Dashboard

Time to completion: 2-3 hours

Deliverables: Mock up your first dashboards; list of facts, dimensions, and filters

Larger projects usually require an initial draft of the dashboard to better lay out how to get the deliverables set by the key stakeholders.

To flesh out your dimensions, facts, and filters, simply answer these questions:

  • Where is the data coming from?
  • What are the data sources?
  • How will I connect to them?
  • Are there unstructured data sources involved?
  • Which data is not currently available and will need to be calculated?

Then, simply create a mockup of which widgets and data visualizations you’ll want to apply in order to best present the data. Drafting this mockup is also a good opportunity to get the approval and early feedback of stakeholders to make sure everyone is on the same page about what will be delivered by the BI project.  This will save the time you would spend making adjustments and changes after already building the dashboard.

Now you’re ready to go! Head to your business intelligence tool to start modeling the data and building out a dashboard knowing that when you go in with a plan, you’re that much more likely to come out with a win.


With years of experience working with business intelligence tools and in-depth knowledge of project management practices, Hila Kantor is head of the BI Consultants team at Sisense. Connect with Hila on LinkedIn.

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