The Business Intelligence stories
Successful Business Intelligence projects

Productive paranoia, Empirical creativity, Fanatic discipline

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Business Intelligence is the hype buzzword in any business today. The hype is justified because increased complexity in and around the business make the decision process complex and require in-depth understanding of the drivers that generate success. But what is business intelligence for your organization beyond the buzzword? Who are the stakeholders? What is the business case for deploying a BI suite? What is the strategic plan that the deployment will support? If these questions are not answered, the probability of success of your BI effort is slim at best. All studies show that best of class companies rely heavily on their BI infrastructure and that being data driven is key for being successful but they also show that it does not happen only with a tool deployment.

Let's illustrate the challenge of this endeavour by stealing from the story of Amundsen and Scott in their effort to reach the South Pole and building on the lessons learned for the business world that Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen illustrated in 'Great by Choice'. As a reminder both Scott and Amundsen were enthusiastic, strong and courageous adventurers but three key principles differentiated them in the way they entered into the expeditions they were leading: Productive paranoia, ask yourself what can go wrong and mitigate early, Empirical creativity, be creative but with small silver bullets first before using the big canon ball, Fanatic discipline, set yourself targets and strive to achieve them consistently.

The Empirical creativity, the Productive paranoia and the Fanatic discipline are good guidelines for your project. Like in any project, you will have an Inception phase where you need to define the goals, the means and the stakeholders of your BI deployment, a Design phase where you will define how you will achieve the goals you've set for this implementation, an Implementation phase where you will execute on your plan and a Transition phase where it will enter into production and meet the live end users and go into smaller adjustments of scope and implementation.

In the Inception phase you need to ask yourself who your end users will be, what their responsibilities are in the organisation, what they are measured on for success. You also need to engage them in the project, find out their main drivers, what they need out of a BI deployment. Beyond the users, you need also to find how their success rolls up into the company's success and who the sponsors of this project are and engage them into the project. At the end of this phase you should have a good impression of the costs of the projects, the key benefits it will deliver, the main risks it will face and have an identified list of the stakeholders and what they will need to do for the project to succeed. Remember when scoping to apply 'Productive paranoia' and 'Empirical creativity', i.e. define phases, ask yourself what can go wrong but also how you will get buy-in from your stakeholders. Don't try to solve the full reporting problem of your company in one big-bang project but start with low hanging fruits where benefits will be most visible and will be usable to build momentum around the project for subsequent phases. Take the human factor into consideration early enough but also the technical constraints. Is your data clean? Is it available?

In the Design phase try to build on what you defined in the Inception phase. You want to go for the low hanging fruits first? How will you do that? What is the minimum you need to build before you can show something? Break down your project into iterations and build a project plan allowing for stakeholder engagement. Remember Productive Paranoia? Silver bullets before canon balls, don't assume everything will be a success so don't burn your budget into big efforts before having them face the reality of your stakeholders. In other words, be Agile.

In the Implementation phase remember your plan and go for it. Remember your sponsors and end users and liaise with them often. Re-validate the assumptions you made in your business case about the value that will be delivered, don't forget your goal to go fast for low hanging fruits. This was part of your strategy, be 'Fanatically disciplined' about it. Make also smart choices when it comes to software, hardware and human choices. Remember where you want to end up, make sure the system you design and the components you buy are efficiently bringing you toward the goals and don't assume that because the system X worked for your neighbour or has the best brochure it is the one fitting your size and needs. The goal is not for you to be able to say that you chose the Big Names so your failure is not your fault but to make your project successful.

In the Transition phase or the transition phases if you followed the advice to go iterative remember that you are not done until your end users get the value delivered. Adjust, refine and learn for your next iteration. Start looking at which silver bullet you designed did the job best and try to plan for a bigger version of it for the next iteration. Dashboards work great with your audience? Where else can they be applied? Power users need drill-down, drill-through and auditability - learn from this for your next step.

I strongly believe that if you apply the lessons learned from Amundsen and Scott's adventure, your business intelligence project will be successful and you will deliver the value needed by your organisation. Go for it, remember the best of class companies do it this way and deliver already the value you want also for yourself. Once done, don't rest on your laurels, is there more gain to be made? Do you measure and report on everything you need to drive your business? Most probably not so institutionalize regular reviews, make sure your teams use the system, base their decisions on their measures and challenge them to continue to optimize your operations through further business intelligence projects. Remember, Productive Paranoia, Empirical Creativity and Fanatic Discipline should remain your motto. And why not even apply it to the rest of your business by using your business intelligence to generate more opportunities to try small experiments, to identify risks and to see if you are as disciplined as you want to be!

See also Data for your employees, Why real-time matters?

About icCube

icCube is the solution stack of choice for all companies needing to setup a simple and maintainable data infrastructure that can be shared across the organisation through standard dynamic reporting or Microsoft Excel™ integration. Since the beginning, the ease of use of the data integration and modeling environment of icCube as well as its flexible reporting integration is praised by its users.

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