Business Intelligence as a powerful communication channel
A few years ago I have been asked to lead a development inventory kind of “project”. The objective was to:
- Find all custom development programs in the customer´s ERP;
- List then in ONE single consolidated place;
- Scan all those custom development programs for non-compliant coding, best practices offences and security risks;
- Provide an reasonable action plan;
- And all that in a couple of weeks.
The challenge was: it was all about pre-sales activities. We wanted to proof to that particular IT executive that he had a problem and that we could support him move from total chaos to some organization within a reasonable timeframe. We had to proof we were able to find out if he had a problem and that we knew how to get it solved.
Well, after two weeks of very hard working and extensive working hours, my team collected a nice spreadsheet with more than 3.000 lines including all required information, classification and suggested action per line. You see, in the “Big Data Era” 3.000 lines is actually a very modest figure. However, it is still not that easy to try and get the message to an IT Executive in 15 minutes over those 3.000 lines.
As I got the responsibility to present our finds, I also got the missing to show it in a way that the IT Executive would understand (and agree on hiring us to solve his problem). I have already stated my belif that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and while I thought on the presentation approach, I remembered USA ex-vice president in his documentary “an inconvenient truth”, he had a similar problem: plenty of data and the mission to try to make the world, to understand it in a very limited amount of time.
Although it is a 2006 video, I still recommend you to take a look:
So I watched it over again and come up with a few conclusions. Mr. Gore’s documentary had 3 characteristics that strike me immediately:
- Relevancy – Mr. Gore made it clear on his movie that the message he wanted to get through would impact directly his audience; and made the point to predict several counter arguments and present its corresponding reasonable answers;
- Content – Mr. Gore presented extensive research (over 650 million years of data actually) and trustworthy data sources. He made it clear with whom he was working with and the kind of reputation those scientists had;
- Visual power – Mr. Gore (and his team, I´m sure) were especially careful to choose how to present each and every bit of data. The climax for me is when the chart blows out of the projection screen and Mr. Gore follows it. That meant something, it gave a clear message that the problem was (and is) out of scale! Besides, data presented was simple enough to a high school kid to understand it without additional research. Looking at the chart relating CO2 emissions and the planet temperature, it is impossible not to see a trend.
So there I was, inspired by Mr. Gore example but far from having his skills and abilities. I decided to work it out based on the Business Intelligence concepts I was so used to handle. My team and I did some role playing to find out which questions were more likely to come up during the meeting and we put ourselves together to prepare a Dashboard with which we could communicate with the IT Executive.
We put up a nice Dashboard – build on SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius at that time), with charts objectively and simply answering most of the questions we had foreseen (which I unfortunately cannot reproduce here). We had charts showing common problems in the developments, people who requested the greatest number of developments, distribution of developments by type, last utilization and so on.
My “grand finale” (which was not grand as Mr. Gore´s) was when the IT Executive asked me if I could suggest him a set of customer development programs to focus on. Well, based on the criteria he gave me at that point in time: department A, type program enhancements and security risk, I was able to use SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence based on a MS- Excel spreadsheet to give him the list he wanted.
The IT Executive was impressed. With a few gadgets we were able to answer most of his questions, the detailed spreadsheet gave the confidence he need to see we really went through the whole exercise in sufficient depth for that moment and the ability to answer his final question on the spot made it.
We closed the deal, but for me, the biggest lesson was that more than providing nice Dashboards or reports to my customers, Business Intelligence could and should be used as an important communication channel. By the way, a friend of my just posted a nice post about how to enrich the front-end in Business Intelligence solution, it worth a look.