by Hiren Deliwala
Project culture has permeated IT organizations over the last several years. Most organizations focus IT teams on the next project as soon as the current project finishes. Business intelligence teams, like other IT teams, focus heavily on completing new projects instead of maintaining deployed solutions.
With relentless focus on projects, BI teams end up creating huge data warehouses and a large number of reporting solutions; however, the business users often do not adopt these solutions well enough. Most BI teams do not know if or how these reporting solutions are being used and how they are providing business value. Comprehensive solutions management and an accompanying BI solution roadmap is the cure to increasing business value with each BI solution and ensuring all solutions are either used actively or eliminated.
To effectively manage BI solutions, the BI team should plan for key aspects of the BI application, such as training, data strategy, customer service, adoption of the solution and tools and technology updates.
This article shows how the BI team can engage with business sponsors to build a BI solutions management roadmap. This roadmap will improve support for the existing reporting solutions as well as manage expectations and plans to address new requirements. The purpose of the BI roadmap is to deliver incremental improvements and enhancements to all application areas of BI solutions – analytics, data, deployment, adoption, and training.A BI solutions management roadmap is a planning exercise best accomplished in conjunction with the business teams. A roadmap planning session brings together the business and technology teams to discover new ideas and challenge themselves to face multiple facets of the reporting solutions.
A good BI roadmap should be aligned closely with business strategy, staying focused on business value with every implementation and performance improvements in multiple facets of the solutions. BI roadmap planning involves three major steps: measuring current state, defining targets and developing an execution plan to achieve targets for each application area.
Let’s discuss each application area in more detail.
Analytic Solutions Roadmap
Analytic solutions – dashboards, scorecards, reports and ad hoc querying – have to closely align with the needs of the end users. Using a framework like MAD from TDWI, the BI team should evaluate the current tools, technologies and analytic solutions to see whether they are a fit for various user segments and to develop an analytic solutions roadmap. The analytic solutions roadmap ensures that analytic capabilities are delivered to business in increments based on business priorities.
Understand the Current State
A simple matrix, as shown in the following figure, shows a snapshot of what analytic solutions are currently available to a department.
Plan BI initiatives
BI teams should strive to provide a full range of analytic capabilities to the business users and consider new analytic capabilities when considering new initiatives for a business area. For example, if a business area has deployed multiple standard reports but no dashboards or scorecards, then new solutions for that business area could be centered on dashboards and scorecards.
A BI team should develop a high-level roadmap of new projects based on the resources available and business priorities. The following figure shows a sample analytic solution roadmap.
The BI team and business users should agree on the key initiatives and define a high-level plan for implementation based on the level of effort for the project and resource availability. Each BI initiative must be managed as a project. The BI team should work with business to prioritize and develop implementation plans for each enhancement. The following figure shows a high-level implementation plan with key deadlines identified, such as requirement due dates, design due dates, etc.
Data requirements for any BI application change constantly; they evolve rapidly based on the inevitable changes in a business environment. Additionally, as analytic tools such as dashboards, scorecards, reports and self-service tools are deployed, it becomes imperative to understand what data elements are available in which tools. A data roadmap helps educate the business users about the complexity of moving the data around via data warehouses and data marts, and then reporting solutions.
Understand the Current State
Knowing what data is available for which reporting solution provides the advantage of better visibility for the business users. A simple data roadmap as mentioned below shows data elements currently available in the data warehouse and various reporting solutions.
Plan Data Availability for Reporting Solutions
Key data elements in an organization are customer, product, segmentation, sales agents, etc. As the business strategy changes, customer or product segmentation can change, resulting in a need to include that data in the data warehouse and subsequent reporting solutions. Jonathan Geiger shares great insight about various kinds of data changes in his article “Data Warehouse Change Request Management.” The key categories of data changes are new data in the existing mart, new mart, new data from an existing source, new data from a new source and data not available currently.
The level of effort for data availability in reporting solutions will vary significantly based on the category of the data change required by the business.
Roadmap planning should focus on how to include these new data elements in the various reporting solutions and the data warehouse.
The following figure shows a sample data roadmap.
Customer support is a key aspect of how BI solutions are managed and perceived by end users. It is important to develop excellence in customer support to complement well-designed data warehouse and reporting solutions.
Understand the Current State
BI should provide visibility to businesses on key metrics related to customer support. Key metrics include number of support tickets logged, tickets resolved within SLAs, and tickets categorized by data, reporting, tool or requirement-related issues. As a part of understanding the current state, the BI team should also evaluate staff/resources allocated to provide customer support and skills/knowledge of the customer support team. Results from periodic customer surveys will help assess satisfaction with the current process and future expectations of the end users.
Develop a High-Level Implementation Plan for Customer Support Improvement
As a next step, BI teams should identify areas of improvement from the current data and focus on a few areas at a time to ensure meaningful progress is made. Here are some specific strategies to improve customer support.
- Develop key BI users. Key users are power users within business departments who can support their departments without the help of IT. BI teams should work with business sponsors to develop key BI users for their respective departments and develop a curriculum to train and educate these key users.
- Train customer support staff. BI teams should invest in internal training of customer support staff; a well-trained customer support staff can make a huge difference in effective support of BI applications.
- Develop help-desk scripts. BI teams should develop help-desk scripts for resolution of common BI issues.
- Hold a periodic customer support call. BI team should hold periodic proactive support calls with the user base and invite users to share their experience or ask questions related to support. Data, business and tools experts should be available on the phone to answer questions readily.
- An effective customer support team tracks the metrics they are measured against and drives performance improvements through the year.
Deployment and Adoption Roadmap
While data warehouse development is primarily IT’s responsibility, IT generally plays a smaller, passive role in deployment and adoption of BI solutions. However, IT should play an active role ensuring user adoption increases over time and the organization receives business value from the BI solutions. According to Gartner, anecdotal evidence suggests no more than 20 percent of users in most organizations use reporting, ad hoc query and online analytical processing tools on a regular basis. A partnership between IT and business to measure user adoption and develop strategies can ensure a high customer adoption.
Understand the Current State
The success of a BI solution depends heavily on one factor: user adoption. BI teams should gather key metrics such as number of users trained, number of users who access reporting solutions and number of reports accessed by department to understand the current state of user adoption. Most reporting packages provide the ability to audit users against the reporting solution. Additionally, customer surveys can also be conducted to understand how users feel about the BI solutions. Questions in the survey should be a mix of multiple choice answers and freeform text comments to provide a balanced view.
Develop an Implementation Plan for Increased Adoption
Based on the data collected, the BI team should identify which solutions have been adopted well and other areas where the efforts should be focused. Knowing the metrics of user adoption can suggest a pattern of solution deployment. One of the key reasons behind poor user adoption is a reluctance to change from the business community, which means BI teams should engage in effective change management early in the deployment. The following are some specific strategies to drive better user adoption.
BI teams should provide a central location where the end users can access documentation. A library of communication such as tips and techniques, user guides, metrics guides and best practices are helpful in the use of the reporting solution. This communication should be closed and integrated with the business processes.
Based on the current user adoption rates, appropriate end-user training should be planned. Various options such as Web-based, classroom and computer-based training should be considered. End-user training should be customized to include a good mix of business and data knowledge with BI tools instruction. Invest in a dedicated trainer whose responsibility it is to work with the user community. Ensure that users are well-versed with the tools so they know how to use them in their day-to-day processes.
BI teams have to invest in promoting the BI solutions available. The goal of the promotion should be to show how business processes can be improved by using the BI solution. BI teams should explore multiple media such as training, Webinars, email and town hall meetings to engage the users and promote BI applications.
Recruit an executive spokesperson. The BI team should recruit an executive spokesperson to speak about the merits of the BI application and the company’s commitment in BI applications. Hearing executives speak about the merits of BI applications can definitely trigger excitement in the user community.
Tools and Technologies (Infrastructure)
To develop a better partnership with business sponsors, BI teams should educate business teams on the complexity of a technology infrastructure required to run BI solutions.
Share the Current State
BI teams should report metrics – maintenance schedules, data load schedules, SLAs and support hours – to provide better visibility of the technical infrastructure and how these metrics impact the business users. Other key back-office metrics, such as capacity, availability and uptime statistics, performance improvements and infrastructure improvements, should be shared and discussed with business.
Share Plans for Technology Improvements and Enhancements
The BI team has to ensure that BI tools and technologies remain under the current support cycle and stay compatible with each other. The BI team should collect information about upcoming versions of BI tools and technologies and any additional infrastructure upgrades planned. During the roadmap planning session, business and BI teams should upgrade timelines that align with business priorities. Maintenance schedules and planned down times should be agreed upon so that business is not adversely impacted when a new software or hardware upgrade is performed.
BI teams cannot work in isolation when implementing solutions but must align with business goals to ensure that every BI solution provides business value. BI teams cannot provide business value without commitment from business, and business cannot enable changes and improvements without using BI as an enabler of the business. The BI roadmap planning process provides the BI team with a way to build a positive relationship with business and also to align both BI and business toward a common goal. A well-defined BI solution roadmap is the key to improving the overall customer experience of the business users and making business intelligence pervasive throughout the organization.
Hiren Deliwala has more than 10 years of experience in business intelligence and data warehousing, having migrated from consulting with IBM to running an enterprise BI team as BI Director at Amedisys Inc. Hiren’s passion is to design and develop BI solutions that focus on generating business value and improving bottom line for a company. Hiren would enjoy receiving feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.