I have been asked many times by my clients and by peers why do you think more business are not implementing a business intelligence solution. It is a great question and I am sure many executives, directors, and managers have discussed this in reference to their own businesses and have their own reasons why a business intelligence solution never got started.
One of many reasons is there is no understanding of data that they are collecting. I have found that some of the businesses that I have dealt with do not understand what data they are collecting, why are they collecting that data, where that data is being stored, and when they are collecting it. To the what data, before business start to collect any data from any source (ERP, CRM, financial, web site, etc), I think they have to ask themselves are they collecting the right data? Remember that data can and should be analyzed to make sure your business is not only going in the right direction but help maintain that direction in the future and shift or pivot if need be. Asking solid questions is one of the primary ways of collecting data. As author Edward Hodnett noted, “If you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t get the right answers.” Questions asked in the right way often point to its own answers. Asking questions is the A-B-C of diagnosis. “Only the inquiring mind solves problems.” You are probably saying to yourself that is easy. Well it is easy but like everything else if you do not keep practicing your skills in asking questions you will never get better.
Like most businesses their primary business is most likely not collecting data. Sure, great questions are being asked and are being pinpointed to the problems that your business is trying to solve. You will find your data will be more useful and meaningful to what the mission the business is trying to accomplish as well deriving actions from a business intelligence solution. Identifying all the reasons why a business needs data upfront will not only help with the reporting of that data but significantly with the data collection. If you understand fully all the factors such as location, time, internal and external resources, vendors, etc. you will have the WHY knowledge of the data points that are important to the business and the data you will be collecting will be extremely valuable. The last thing that a business wants to do is to repeat the data collection process over and over because they have failed to think about the data factors in the beginning. Not only will this add time to obtaining valuable information but the data that you have been collecting might have pointed the business in the wrong direction.
Once you have defined the factors, developed the questions, and you are now collecting that data, where are you going to store it? Say you are a business that is collecting data from multiple applications which are important to your business such as custom web application, a ticketing system that helps customer service, and you have some sort of external data coming into a SFTP server. Each one of these applications are storing data in their own way whether it is contained in a data repository or in a flat file. Yes you can extract information from each one and get some type of analysis out of each source of data that can help the business but think about the insight you can get if you could join the data. Each one of these applications or process is a silo and does not know the other exists. Let’s take for example that your custom web application is used to manage projects and crews. Then you have data feeds from an external data source that has data from vendors related to this project. Your project manager looks at one set of data points from the web application and another set of data points in a spreadsheet application. That project manager then has to merge the data manually in some way like a spreadsheet. Moving the data is usually done by copying and pasting the web application data into another tab of the spreadsheet that they are viewing the vendor information from. Once they are done with that they now create another tab to merge the data points they want to see together. Then they will create another tab for graphs and calculations. Think about all the disparate source systems that you have in your network and then picture yourself repeating the above process in spreadsheets over and over. It is error prone, it is not scalable, and it is unmanageable. If that information is invaluable to the business then you need to kick start your business intelligence solution and then watch your business get meaning from that information with one simple point and click of a mouse. I can tell you one thing that a business does not want and that is having each one of their employees being their own data collector (their own single source of truth) because the business as a whole will not be able to identify any of the areas of the business’ shortcomings as well as the areas that they are excelling. The business is flying blind and are making decisions without seeing the full picture or the wrong picture.