I am in the Business Intelligence Business for over 20 years and seldom heard a business user say:
- We have a fantastic Reporting, Analytics and Planning solution
- I always have the data I need
- New requirements are implemented fast
- No need for spreadsheets anymore
- Self-Service BI is working
- Our BI Team meets our expectations
- We feel understood by the BI Team
- We know what we can deliver to our users
- We know what we can expect from the BI Team
- I understand where the data comes from
- We don’t have enough data but rather we don’t have insights
- Getting insights is self-explanatory
- Any time, Anywhere and Any device is a fact and not just a slogan
Let’s look at some issues concerning the happiness of BI consumers:
Expectations and the management thereof
The expectations from the business users are usually high. That’s good and fair, the problem starts if they are unreasonable. Generation Z has entered the workforce and Generation Alpha is slowly entering. These generations grew up with smartphones and tablets and expect nothing less at their workplace.
An informed Business User knows what is possible in general. They might attend conferences, webcasts, talk to peers where they see the latest and fanciest dashboards.
They have the latest smartphones and tablets with state-of-the art apps, doing their whole private business with it. Swiping competes with typing. And then, Monday morning 8 am they logon to the company solutions and are confronted with “5, 10, 15 year” old applications. Obviously, this doesn’t meet their expectations and doesn’t help their motivation.
The WHYs for “old” systems can have various reasons. I do believe that a good and continuous communication between the Business and IT is a first step to a better understanding of each other’s position and enables to build up a solid roadmap.
Above is valid for all IT applications. Looking at Business Intelligence, we could measure the happiness of the business users by
- Data Quality
- Data availability, structured and unstructured data from various sources
- Performance of the reports and analysis
- Tools who support users to get insights easily and manage huge data volumes in the back end
- Implementation speed of new requests
- Self-Service BI
- One single platform covering Business Intelligence, Dashboarding, Analysis, Planning enriched with Predictive, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
- Anytime, Anywhere, Any device
- Helpdesk / Support
There are a lot of Project method books and opinions around. I believe that the challenge is to choose the right methodology. If you go with Waterfall or Scrum, follow-it through. Don’t do Pseudo Scrum or Waterfall projects. A large transformation project might consist of both approaches. For example, building Stories with the SAP Analytics Cloud is a perfect case for an agile way. The project team must be properly trained and committed to follow the chosen methodology. Don’t get caught with too much project overhead work, this needs to be properly balanced.
And of course, get your stakeholders and business users involved from an early start.
Operation Model and Support
Mature organisations normally have a proper BI Competence Center. SLA’s are agreed on and measured regularly. All good sofar. BICCs often have a conflict between running an excellent operation, support tasks, change requests, new projects, deliver innovations and this with budget constraints and limited resources. With newer tools like SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP Datawarehouse Cloud some tasks can be shifted to the business for everyone’s profit.
The quality of rolled-out solutions often does not meet the expectations. Since we talk about reporting, data quality is a major concern and often a showstopper or cause for delays. Master Data Management is not that fancy and not just a one-time project. It is an ongoing process, a must and a cornerstone for any task in the company which relies on master data and that covers just about any application.
In order to offer Self-Service BI, you need to establish a common understanding of the term, or, sticking to the previous statements “Manage the Expectations towards Self-Service BI”. Furthermore, you will need an appropriate software solution which supports Self-Service BI. Apart from that, the operation model, governance and data quality are directly influencing the successful implementation of Self-Service BI. I am an ardent advocate of Self-Service BI. Tools like the SAP Analytics Cloud and the SAP Datawarehouse Cloud are empowering the Business User to build and create Stories, Dashboards, Reports and Analysis on their own and herewith Democratize BI. They also offer Predictive, AI and ML functionalities which empower every user to be a “hobby” data scientist. This is often sufficient enough to deep dive into the data an run advanced analytics like e.g. Smart Discovery, see below.
- The tool itself is only an enabler, however you also have to look and adjust the processes and skillsets in the business. You have to upskill and reskill the available resources and responsibilities will shift from IT to Business. A proper change management process supports such transitions.
Jumpstart Data Exploration with Automated Story Creation
Smart Discovery acts as your digital Business Analyst. It automates the data exploration process to reveal information that is statistically relevant.
Trained machine learning models, that are specific to your data, generate an overview of significant patterns, outliers, key drivers and influencers. Then, an interactive what-if simulation is created based on the model, allowing you to explore the possible result of changing factors and variables.
With the auto-generated story from Smart Discovery, your data speaks for itself. Intelligent algorithms remove the need for analytics to be fully human-led, reducing bias to ensure important trends are not missed.
The role of IT
Even though I wrote about shifting responsibilities from IT to Business, IT will not be out of business. A recent study by The Hackett Group compared World-Class IT to the Peer group. Their chart shows in which categories World-class IT outperforms:
Just looking at these 6 topics, there is more than enough work to do.
Cloud or no Cloud?
The questions is obsolete by now. The question is rather when and how you are going to use Cloud-based systems. What is your business case and motivation for it?
We have just moved all of our IT-application from on-premise to the AWS Cloud. Adrian Bourcevet shares our motivation and experience in the recent webinar “In 100 Tagen in die Cloud: CubeServ’s Weg zu AWS”
I believe that the cloud enables you to be more agile e.g. Business needs a system for a PoC for 6 months. With a few clicks, the system is ready and once the PoC is done, you can just switch it off again. Lengthy discussions about hardware investments and sunken costs which can be a hindrance in moving to a newer, up-to-date landscape are a thing of the past, as well as the discussion about the right sizing. A good Cloud provider offers you the needed elasticity and many more services which you do not have in your IT or which would just be too expensive to have.
Lets wrap it up
Obviously, it is an enormous and continuous task to satisfy all needs and to have only happy users, however there are tools and processes available to support it. Apart from that, you need to have the right skillset in your workforce. Expectation management and a look at the operating model are necessary tasks. Build up AND maintain a roadmap which combines all of these aspects.
The SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP Datawarehouse Cloud are newer solutions which do not need a lengthy internal project process. Since there is no hardware needed, no enormous upfront licensing costs and the tools are built for the business user from scratch. Business can start a PoC easily and even move into production step by step. As always, a bit planning is necessary and there are a couple of dos and dont’s along the way.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr., P.S. I Love You
We are actively following all these developments for over 20 years and continuously update our best practice approach. Join our happy customers who come from various industries and different company sizes. Based on our experience we will find the best possible solution for you and your teams together. I would be happy to engage in further discussions.
Feel free to share you thoughts and experience in the comment section and/or feel free to contact me.