Selling the Business Intelligence Implementation
July 13, 2010
The old saying goes you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink. The same can apply to the struggle that can ensue in selling a Business Intelligence Solution to the wider company audience. You can show the company leaders the data and the results but how do you ensure as a consultant that the company continues to use the information after you have left.
Business Intelligence uses a variety of systems - data warehouses, business analysis and data mining to track a company's data and key trends, with the aim of improving these key processes to improve market performance. From a consultants perspective you have been successful if the company or organization that you have been working for accepts the ability of the Business Intelligence system introduced to assist them in their decision making. A successful implementation is usually driven by an urgent requirement to make sense out of all the companies' myriad of information to drive a vision of market place enhancement. Business Intelligence projects are usually initiated from a senior management level and for them to succeed, ongoing support from this level along with an ongoing business motivation and the availability of data to support the project are the minimum requirements for a successful project.
Selling the Business Intelligence Idea
In my experience, over many years of delivering projects to major organizations, it is critical to identify those members of the organization who are championing the idea of Business Intelligence within the company and work with them to promote the benefits of a successful implementation. I usually have at least two or three running systems installed on my laptop along with example data, which is usually tailored for the company - this helps to deliver graphically the results that can be expected, especially when in boardroom level meetings with personnel who are not fully committed to the idea of a Business Intelligence implementation. The aim of these meetings however is to convince these powerful people that the project can be successful and that the benefits will be immediately visible and more importantly, profitable - especially as the project is likely to be a major investment for the company. At this point, it is critical to set the goals for the project - managing expectations is a major part of ensuring that the business community who will use the project, buy into it. Ensure that you are clear in your delivery to the group about what can be expected from the various example systems you are displaying. Once you have explained what can be achieved, take time to listen to their concerns and any further requirements they may have. It is important to take notes and ensure that the questions raised are answered quickly and fully.
A few points should be raised at this level to ensure that everyone is aware of the various pitfalls that may provide trouble during the build:
Once this initial meeting has been concluded, ensure that any questions raised are answered quickly and completely - this ensures that the business leaders do not think that this is just another 'IT Project'. In my experience, communication is key to a successfully implemented Business Intelligence project. It enables the project to be kept at the forefront of the company agenda especially in the current economic climate where funds are at a premium. Ensure that once the go ahead for the project has been given that the requirements collection follows quickly and is comprehensive and personal. In my experience it is critical that the requirements collection is achieved by face to face meetings with all interested departments of the business and that any current reports that are discussed at these meetings are fully broken down during that meeting and copious notes taken. Stakeholders who are present at these meetings will go back to their various departments and discuss the possibility of being able to see a particular part of the companies data, which will provide the department with the ability to perform better. This is the aim of the personal requirement meeting - it empowers the business user with a stake in the project.
The project can now go forward and not to be discussed in this article are the many stages of Technical Architecture production, Data Selection and construction of the ETL process. However, during all these processes - which as the consultant you will be responsible for - the watchword must be communication, communication and more communication. At every stage a brief meeting - I prefer the face to face medium - or if this is not possible a stakeholder email to explain where the project is and the progress so far should be delivered. If you try to ring fence the project from outside business influence it will fail - the delivery of a Business Intelligence project must involve and have business influence otherwise it is not fit for the purpose for which it is intended. When the model is complete and it is time to start delivering data to the user, I find it most helpful to involve all stakeholder departments in this process. I will set up a conference room with the ability to display the raw OLAP data in a reporting host, which allows manipulation and creation of basic reports. At this point, I will have used the requirements collection to create some first view reports and KPIs, which can then be delivered to the stakeholders for their dissection, consumption and analysis. Again, communication is key, feedback must be used constructively and queries answered either at the meeting or very quickly afterwards. The system can then be tailored to the stakeholder's requests to ensure that their requirements are met.
Business Intelligence is described as referring to computer-based techniques used in spotting, digging-out, and analyzing business data, such as sales revenue by products and/or departments or associated costs and incomes. BI technologies provide historical, current, and predictive views of business operations and focuses on all-source information and data (unstructured or structured), mostly external to, but also internal to a company, to support decision making.  This decision making is critical in how a company performs in today's information critical environment and more and more organizations are turning to Business Intelligence professionals to provide this view on their critical information. As a Business Intelligence consultant, your challenge is not usually the sourcing or delivery of the information, but how that information is used going forward once you have left the organization. I have explained the processes that I use to ensure that the company's employees are invested in the project and that all major stakeholders are happy with the results of their system.