When does business information become a business disadvantage? Robert Dagge, Managing Director, Dynistics, explains that no business is unique, just different and the use of pre-defined charts that are industry honed by experts can deliver those desired business insights within hours, not days, weeks or months.
Using today’s Business Intelligence (BI) tools can be a bit like trying to drink from a fire hydrant – too much information, from all directions, with no control. Far too often the very business driver a company set out to find and monitor gets lost in the melee.
And then there’s the promise of the art of the possible where you can build just about any report given enough time and an army of experts on hand to help. By the time you get to measuring what you set out to measure, it could all just be yesterday’s information. And the more data, the worse it gets. Each attempt to achieve insight takes longer, and the potential business benefits appear ever further away.
What’s needed now is a rethink on BI to turn it into business advantage.
Drowning in Data
Companies are awash with data – and under ever increasing pressure to leverage that data to drive business advantage. Yet while the pundits tout the amazing potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to transform data into unimaginable benefits, the sad reality is in most businesses just 5%-10% of this data is used in any way at all – let alone effectively. Given the maturity of the BI marketplace and toolsets, why are so many companies still reliant on Excel? Why are they still lacking any real-time access to data that delivers actionable insight? Why, essentially, is BI still failing to deliver?
In many ways it is the sheer scale of the opportunity that is BI’s Achilles heel. Companies have so much data and so many options for capturing, analysing and presenting that data, so many ways to use data to drive business operations that data fatigue and paralysis become the dominant responses to any BI initiative.
A recruitment company, for example, can immediately see the benefits of tracking the end to end process, from the placing of job ads, through the number of CVs received, to interview and successful placement. But BI opens the door to gain phenomenal insight into every one of those areas: which job board delivers the best value, in which vertical markets and roles? Are more expensive specialist sites offering better ROI in terms of placement ratios? The art of the possible may be incredibly compelling, but once a company starts to fall down the possibilities rabbit hole it can be incredibly tough to emerge. The result? Months have been spent with expensive consultants. Nothing has been achieved. The data is still underused and the business has failed to attain the insight required to drive performance. It doesn’t have to be this way.
BI’s simple and compelling visualisation tools too often mask the essential complexity of knowing how to use data to achieve business objectives. Many BI vendors promise the world – because they can. BI tools are incredibly powerful. But the bigger the promise, the longer the process; implementation can take weeks, months or even years and getting users up to speed can take just as long.
It is not the data or the BI tools that are the problem, or the root cause of data paralysis. It is the difficulty companies have in both understanding how a data driven business could operate and making that a reality without being led astray by the sheer breadth and depth of data opportunities. The two issues together can become a toxic combination because the business never achieves the quick wins required to prove the value of BI or reinforce the correct data culture and attitude across the organisation.
A different approach is now essential. The data deluge is only going to increase and those companies unable to turn this to their advantage are going to drown at the data fire hydrant. What is required is an effective hose – a way to harness specific data sets quickly that are totally relevant to the business need.
Fast and Focused
What is the difference between those companies paralysed by data and those achieving tangible business advantage from BI? The key is to get started; to step away from the extraordinary possibilities and focus on the immediate. Of course, every business has its specific challenges but, be realistic, there are a set of common issues that will resonate with companies in a vertical market. From funding within education to candidate engagement in recruitment, carefully crafted pre-built charts and dashboards designed by industry experts can provide immediate access to the information required to make a massive difference.
A college, for example, can implement an attendance dashboard within hours – providing the essential view of student attendance and work appraisal that can provide an early warning of potential drop out. Rather than waiting for term or year-end reports, leveraging real-time information, a red flag on the dashboard can prompt tutors or course leaders to intervene and understand why that student is struggling. In addition to helping colleges proactively address student safeguarding issues, this insight supports the Project 42 issue, minimising the loss of funding that results from students leaving before 42 days have passed – and reducing financial losses.
Given the huge financial pressures now endemic within education, the ability to proactively address funding in this way will deliver an immediate benefit. Indeed, one college used data from its attendance dashboard to undertake the early intervention with students that prevented 86 learners from dropping out. A win for both college and students; and a platform upon which to build further issue-specific dashboards.
Done well, BI is transformative – from the CEO who has reduced his reporting time by 40%, releasing 100 days a year to spend making great decisions rather than searching for information, to the company that has used real-time business insight to reduce its time to bill by 50%. The key is to start small. There is no need to boil the ocean: the companies that use BI to make smart decisions take bite sized pieces, they keep it simple and focused to deliver immediate benefit and, critically, demonstrate the value of data driven decision making to the rest of the business.
And they understand why they are using BI. The power of data visualisation is a call to arms – it delivers that immediate view of performance that enables organisations to prioritise activity. If all the lights are green, no need to intervene; if it’s red – time to step in and find out what is going on.
Of course, BI still offers the art of the possible – there is always the option to expand and explore, to customise and be creative. But that should not be the starting point. Whether it is recruitment, education, manufacturing, financial services or property, expert crafted dashboards provide organisations with the chance to get immediately up and running with relevant insight and priorities to achieve instant wins and create the foundation for data driven decision making across the business.
By Robert Dagge