Companies can be data rich and information poor. Business intelligence involves using data wisely and strategically. Tim Hebert, founder and CEO of Trilix, spoke with PBN about how companies should approach BI, and what tools are available to implement its use.
PBN: For those unfamiliar, what is a quick definition of BI?
HEBERT: There are a lot of floating definitions out there, but at Trilix we define business intelligence as: a strategic use of people, processes and technology to turn data into insights that are reliable, relevant, timely and actionable.
PBN: Who is using BI the most, to make what kinds of decisions in a company?
HEBERT: Recent studies show us that the top five business areas driving BI are operations, sales, finance, executive management and information technology. But each of these units are approaching BI from a different point of view.
People in operations, for example, might be turning to BI to identify areas of waste and inefficiency and predict shifting external conditions before they happen. Sales leaders are monitoring revenue numbers of course, but they are also interested in what leading indicators correlate tightly to sales success, such as how potential deals move through their pipeline. Finance looks to BI to monitor profit and loss in real time, rather than monthly or quarterly, so they can respond quickly to negative trends. IT can use business intelligence to track and monitor security threats and also gauge how effectively BI tools are being used in the organization – a concept we refer to as “BI on BI.”
PBN: What are some of the best tools out there now to implement BI?
HEBERT: There are several strong options for BI platforms out there, so our approach is to find the solution that is most apt for each unique purpose. For example, a large organization that wants personnel to be able to explore and experiment with analytics might prefer Tableau, as it’s generally considered easier to use.
If cost is a concern, Microsoft Power BI is an attractive option with its affordable licensing options. Users who are comfortable navigating Office 365 will easily learn Power BI, making it a good solution for moderately tech-savvy teams.
Qlik is an interesting candidate for companies that want to integrate multiple data sources without deploying a data lake or data warehouse, as it has native data loading and preparation features.
We like to evaluate how a system will be used to find the right option for each set of circumstances.
PBN: One of the things Trilix suggests is establishing a data-driven culture. What are a few steps to accomplish that?
HEBERT: Adoption of a data-driven culture starts at the top. Is your executive team fully on board with taking a data-driven approach to key decision-making? Trusting one’s gut is no longer enough. Key decisions – strategic, operational and tactical – need to be backed by the empirical evidence your data provides.
However, data culture isn’t just something that can be mandated from the top. It is important to identify champions for data at all levels of the organization and across all business units. And while that includes information technology, IT cannot be solely responsible for implementing data initiatives. Input from the business side is critical so that your data is being used in service of your overall strategic objectives.
PBN: One of your company’s blogs mentions problems when businesses delve into too much data at once. What are some ways to take a step back and organize BI efforts?
HEBERT: We believe companies should start with a solid strategy, so they are handling data deliberately and are being proactive rather than reactive. A sound data strategy starts with a carefully considered and well-executed corporate strategy. You want to focus on the most important objectives that will yield the greatest impact.
Once everyone in the organization understands your strategic goals and how data can support them, you can work on evolving your data ecosystem. This is not merely limited to technical components but also involves looking at people, processes, policies and culture.
By looking at our data, and starting with our strategy, we are able to come up with answers to questions we haven’t yet asked. Business intelligence is not just about solving today’s problems, but about solving the problems of tomorrow.
Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.
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