8 minute read
My journey into business intelligence (BI) began with an IBM commercial about a bakery. Using analytics, the bakery uncovered a customer coping method of sorts: People buy more cakes when it rains. This unexpected insight allowed the shop to better plan its inventory based on the weather forecast. I was fascinated by how a company could use data to find patterns and then use those patterns to improve their business processes. From that moment, I was hooked.
Now I am fully immersed in the BI world. I work with clients who are using analytics to understand all aspects of their business and drive decision-making. Along my journey, I’ve picked up plenty of truths about BI, but I’ve also heard a bunch of myths. Those myths tend to fall into two categories: excuses to avoid implementing BI and misconceptions about its capabilities.
So guess what time it is? Time to dispel the top five BI myths I hear most often.
“But I already have Excel.”
“But we’d need a data warehouse.”
“With these new data visualization tools, who needs training?”
“Self-service means everyone will serve themselves.”
“Got data. Let’s start reporting!”
Excuse #1: “I Already Have Excel.”
Yes, Excel is extremely powerful. It can make Excel-lent reports. But today’s workplace poses some real challenges for the old workhorse. In an age of collaboration, the biggest concern is sharing a report with others. How do you do it? You email it out, right? But once you do that, there are multiple versions of the report and any changes to the original report will not propagate to the copies. BI reporting solutions allow the whole team to view reports online or through an app on a mobile device. This means you have one version of the truth, easily shareable.
Another Excel challenge is trying to combine different data sources to create a data model. It’s possible, but it’s no easy task. Modern BI solutions take the technical difficulty out of the process, allowing quicker time from report initiation to completion.
Excuse #2: “We Don’t Have a Data Warehouse.”
This one comes from outdated information. With traditional BI, the creation of a data warehouse was standard practice. But newer BI tools, like Microsoft's Power BI, allow the creation of a data warehouse fully self-contained within the report. This can significantly reduce the cost of implementing a BI solution. It also speeds up implementation. Instead of taking months or years to build/accumulate what you need, now you can get your very own BI solution in days, weeks and sometimes even just hours!
Extra Bonus: Not only do modern BI tools easily house your data, they simplify the data modeling process by making it easier to load and clean data. Bringing data in from multiple sources? Yep, that’s a snap too.
Okay. I've amazed and inspired you with the wonders of modern BI, and you’re ready to jump right in. It can do anything! It has no limits!
Whoa, Nelly. We love enthusiasm, but it’s no substitute for thoughtful implementation. Don’t fall victim to these common delusions:
Assumption #1: “With These New Visualization Tools, Who Needs Training?”
Everyone! New data visualization tools certainly make analyzing data quicker and easier than it ever used to be. However, as with most new technologies, it is vital to learn what those tools can do for you. How can your company make the most of today’s BI capabilities?
Fortunately, most modern tools have many readily accessible learning resources and a supportive community to help ease your learning curve. (You can consider our MINDs part of your supportive learning community too!)
The tools may be getting easier to use, but take it from this lifelong learner: It’s still worth the effort to learn everything the product can do so you can take full advantage of it.
Assumption #2: “Self-Service BI Means Everyone Will Use It!”
With the abundance of visualization tools on the market, it is becoming increasingly easy to get data to people who want to analyze it. But not everyone is a natural data junky. Just putting a tool in front of someone doesn't mean they are going to use it. People need a reason to make them use the product. Often they will need training too (see above). Users need to see how the tool benefits them. A good technology consultant shows users how BI tools can easily answer the questions they’ve been asking but didn’t know how to answer.
Assumption #3: Have Data 🠊 Start Reporting
Finally, I have seen far too many cases where people pull data into a reporting tool and generate reports by trial and error. They select a visual (bar graph or pie chart?), add a random data set, and . . . Voila! A report.
It does work sometimes. Even a blind pig finds an acorn, as they say. But context and initial analysis are much more reliable strategies.
You need to analyze the data upfront to gain intelligence from the data. After all, that is what we’re after. Initial analysis most often requires gaining context about the data you are reviewing. Before reporting on data, it is imperative to know (a) what the data is, (b) where it comes from, and (c) how it is related. Taking the time to understand the data and define the questions you want answered will pay dividends in the long run. Smart prep means less time creating reports and more time analyzing insights.
Relationship Advice from a BI Expert
BI has matured. It’s not that high-maintenance gold digger you remember. Not only are prices coming down, the new tools make it easier than ever to start analyzing your data. But you still need to be picky. Not all tools are equal, and finding the right software for your needs is critical. It pays to do your research. Here at Mind Over Machines, we love a good technology shootout. Take the time to evaluate a few solutions before you choose your mate.
After you’ve chosen, stop being picky and start being supportive. BI is powerful, but it needs your help to make your users fall in love with it. Once your BI solution is up and running, show them what it can do. Start with information sessions to wow users with its capabilities. Then move to hands-on training; teach them how to use the tool for maximum benefit.
As my friend Mike Rolfes recently said, “Discovery, configuration, and training must combine to create a successful implementation.” We’re pretty darn good at all three.
Tim Gavin has always loved math. Alas, in his younger years, he had a very limited understanding of his possible career trajectories. “What do you do with a math degree? You teach math, of course.” And so began a decade in the Baltimore County Public Schools.
Fortunately for us (and our clients), Tim soon became acquainted with the myriad ways our world needs math. He made the jump to IT consulting, gaining expertise as an info architect, web designer and SharePoint developer. But between that IBM commercial and an early BI solution shootout for a client who was ahead of the curve, business intelligence stole Tim’s heart. “It was all about math and data and finding connections. I thought, ‘Why haven’t I been doing this my whole life?’”
When Tim needs a break from numbers, he runs ultramarathons. Nothing clears the head like 100 miles in the mountains. He also enjoys spending time with his teenage daughter, whom he had doing multiplication before kindergarten. Clearly, overachieving runs in the family.