Creating a Successful BI Solution that is Used Enterprise Wide
While the path to a solution may not be clear, the challenge is obvious:
How can you ensure your solution is the one people instinctively use (and universally trust) when it comes to reporting?
There are a few key elements in a BI strategy that decide whether the overall BI solution will be a success. The measure of success I’m talking about should not be simply delivering the correct numbers to the business users – that would be setting the bar far too low. To be honest if you do it right you gain so much trust that the users won’t question the accuracy.
The following principles and actions summarize how our BI solution became the single point of truth and the only BI solution across the complete organization.
First, a bit of background about me and the reporting landscape when I started…
I work for global wholesale healthcare provider, which has roughly 8,000 employees and 100+ legal entities of various sizes across the globe. Some of these entities were using SAP and some had other erp’s in place (this is still the case today). Five years ago when I was asked to clean up the former two attempts, for an enterprise wide BI, the SAP BW user group was limited to approximately 25 people within HQ, each trying his or her best to deal with BEx Analyzer in Excel. Due localized and limited users, it was manageable to walk a user though how to reimport a query following structural changes or determine the technical name of a key user query. In no way a scaleable or manageable solution. Not suprising almost every bigger entity had a locally developed reporting solution in place that was fed by SAP since HQ did not deliver the former 3 years. Basically, we had a tool zoo of BI products across the globe and even within headquarters competing tools were being used. There was no standard tool or agreed source for data integrity within the organization.
This is how it looked like
Initially, BI was an IT discipline and essentially a “one-man-show” dealing with a couple of different consulting companies. Implementing various topics at the same time was a full time juggling act! Work with consultants you know and possibly with one company goes without saying.
We needed a change, as the TCO and ongoing license costs were way too high and more importantly, data integrity was constantly being challenged. Regularly, month end sales reporting from operating entities claimed to have “different numbers” when compared to what HQ showed. Sales performance calls quickly dissolved into discussions about who has the “right” numbers rather than constructive interactions about performance and future strategic initiatives. There was a lot of competition on BI tools and ownership.
Several key things needed to come together in order to turn our solution into the single point of truth and the only BI solution across the complete Organization. Addressing the principles listed below, helped us made big changes, reaching the “right” decisions on a timely basis:
- Exchange platform with your entities
- Easy Access
BI moved from IT to the Finance department. Finance was the most structured and most advanced in ERP processes and thus, was the department leading the reporting requests. This change not only put finance in the driver seat in terms of executing changes, but also gave us the required “buy-in” from the key group of business users. It also allowed for access to the finance organizations across the globe (see “Exchange platform with your entities” section). Within the HQ finance group, a Finance Systems team exists, which is dedicated to ensure value flows and business cases are implemented the same way across all company codes (or legal entities). Once we implemented the first reportings we quickly discovered that initially, consistent reporting across all companies was not possible, as some groups used certain fields in ECC differently. Finance Systems was pretty handy (i.e. instrumental) in standardizing process and data fields within the operating organizations. With that, piece one was in place.
I can’t stress the importance of setting the right “tone from the top”. With the organizational shift to Finance, the CFO became the sponsor of the BI initiative. We initiated a steering committee, with bi-monthly meetings, to supervise and drive the initiative. Key members included Senior Management from Sales, Operations, Finance and IT, along with the CFO. Structured meetings ensured the committee was informed of ongoing developments, key milestones and with that information could drive the initiative forward. I highly recommend creating a standardized agenda, which should (at a minimum) contain the following items:
- Achievements made since the last meeting
- Critical points
- Decision needed
- Achievements planned to be completed before the next meeting
This platform allowed us to “sell and promote” the progress on a regular basis.
Once Senior Management is only looking at your reporting and the local Managing Directors get incented on your database/numers you will also instantly gain the local controllers attention.
The steering committee also had the required power to decide that going forward SAP BW will be the data warehouse for the entire group. As Cognos BI already had strong acceptance within the management group, it was to be used as the frontend solution. In the end, it’s possible to argue that almost all reputable tools can solve your requirements, although some may be better in certain areas. I do believe, however, that it does not help you to attempt to convince management to use a different tool if the existing one can meet the organizational needs – why switch from something which they are already familiar, comfortable and (most importantly) like and rebuilt a reputation you get for free with the existing tool.
Exchange platform with your entities
As part of the finance group, we have the chance to meet with the global user group twice a year during budget season and at a finance summit to discuss reporting requirements, engineer cockpits and discuss what dimensions/reporting areas are needed the most. In addition to providing training updates, users were also able to share best practices and discuss issues. Another benefit of these face-to-face meetings is that they allow you to promote your solutions (to a live, captive audience), report on progress to a wider group in your organization and share your plans or future outlook.
It is much more powerful than email or other remote communication methods. I must admit, that buy-in takes time – in first session the attention levels were low and questions posed about development needs were met with answers such as “I already have a solution in place” and “we don’t care so much for a HQ solution” were heard fairly often. Users began to commit to the solution and offer development improvements when the SAP BW tool shown to be useful in meeting daily information needs and not just “something for HQ”.
This piece had an even bigger impact then we had originally thought. Give your solution a name and an identity! It simplifies everything – from knowing which BI tool users are talking about to ticket management, as the average user does not understand if he/she is working with BusinessOjects, Cognos, BW, qlikview… and quite frankly, he/she doesn’t need to know so come up with a name you are going to call your BI and stick with it! We went with the acronym IRIS, which stands for Internal Reporting & Information System. The BI portal shows a large image of an iris from an eye. Within a few weeks many people were aware of IRIS and a few months after the launch the whole organization had heard of IRIS. Note, if you handle tickets using a ticket management tool, this is how your group of tickets should be named, which will prevent them from floating in various categories because users will know what category of ticket to log.
Even if you have the fastest and best looking reports, users won’t benefit and the tool won’t be used if the users don’t know how to access or where to find them. Our platform got split into two users groups.
The analysts who do self-service BI based on templates we provide (ensuring the KPI definitions are correct and principles of use consistent across the various templates) but are given enough freedom/flexibility to work with the data (without relying on the BI team for every single change). This far we think selfservice BI is a good thing. Our user group matured to be able to handle self service BI to this extend.
The Management Group receiving and viewing standardized formatted reports. Each group is given a separate portal to access: One via http://analysis.company.com and the other through http://reporting.company.com.
As you might guess we moved completely to the web…no more BEx Analyzer. Self-service BI happens through the BEx WebAnalyzer, ensuring all the investments in queries are secured regardless of what frontend may be in place in the future. In our case, the source for formatted reporting is in Cognos BI. These days we would probably pick BusinessObjects, but again use what you have and is recognized and trusted by Management. Most of us do not have the luxury to be able to start with green field.
This is a hard one to maintain but shouldn’t be neglected if you want to promote your solution. It may seem trivial, but create flyers with important navigation steps, booklets for Management with FAQs and where they can find the most interesting information, mouse pads with helpful insights and periodic newsletters spreading the info on what has changed or got integrated.
We never threatened to shut down any island solutions that local entities built over the time, yet none of them exists today. They all moved voluntarily to the corporate solution in the end, as they were convinced it was better for procuring the information they needed to manage their business operations. Gaining the buy-in of local entities will push your solution one step further. They were willing to give up the independence they had with local reporting solutions for the benefit not have to deal with reconciliation issues, lowering the local cost of not having to maintain a separate system and pay licenses.
Today, sales performance calls are actually about performance and not muddled with discussing who has the correct numbers. We grew to 1000+ users and now have a global BI team established and a solution in place that feeds various external applications. More than 10’000 queries are executed each week.
Our BI environement has come a long way in the last five years.
I hope one or the other point I made left some food for thoughts…
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