July 16, 2018

How to Set Up for a Successful BI Project

Written by
Anne Louise Thorbecke

Studies have in recent years found that executives are willing and able to commit resources to the implementation of business intelligence (BI) solutions, yet many also report not seeing the business benefits they expected once the solution is in place.

In this blog we will discuss some of the key considerations project teams should make to ensure their BI project is successful.

Which BI software
is right for your business?

Identify pain points

The first step to ensuring your business intelligence project is successful is to know which problems you want to solve. This may seem obvious, but if the project team doesn’t continuously communicate with key stakeholders, miscommunications can occur. If the project team has a different understanding of key pain points within the sales team than the sales managers do, you risk implementing a BI solution that cannot actually analyse the metrics that are important to your business. This would result in a significant investment of time and resources, without the solution delivering any ROI.

Instead, it is a good idea to map out which challenges each key stakeholder wants to solve, including what aspect of the company data could help achieve this goal, in which system the data is stored, and how the stakeholders will access the metrics through the BI solution.

You may for example find the operations manager wants to avoid dead stock from accumulating. To achieve this they might need historical insights into how often and at what quantities each product is sold, and how much product you have on your shelves. This data typically lives in a company’s ERP system, and the warehouse manager will access the insights from their laptop. Now that you know this, it is much easier to approach a BI vendor to find out whether they can deliver on what your business needs from its analytics solution. Ask the vendor to show you some of the particular metrics you want in a proof of concept to ensure they can deliver what you need.

Think cross-business benefits

Many businesses begin their BI journey by implementing the chosen solution in one department. This is fine, it gives your business the opportunity to test the solution for an extended amount of time without taking on the costs of implementing the solution across the business straight away.

However, many other departments across the business can benefit from BI too. Your warehouse might optimize their stock levels and cut costs, your sales team might find new sales opportunities and increase customer retention, your executive team can gain full insights into all aspects of the business, and finance teams may improve the way they manage rebate programs or price their products.

By choosing a BI vendor that offers solutions that benefit multiple aspects of the business, you avoid the challenge of managing multiple systems in the future. This speaks directly to the long-term success of the BI project, as having multiple systems can complicate the way teams communicate, the way the systems are managed, and may not least cost more.

Ensure executive sponsorship

An executive sponsor is a member of the executive team that plays a key role in the BI project. Having an executive sponsor is important to the success of the BI project as they play a key role in communicating between all levels of the organization. They keep the project on track, promote a data-driven culture within the business, and remove any roadblocks.

A study by Prosci found that only 29% of projects with an ‘ineffective’ executive sponsor achieved the project objectives, whereas 72% of the project with an ‘active and visible’ executive sponsor achieved project objectives.

Choose a BI vendor that is right for your business

BI vendors come in all shapes and sizes, and not every vendor is the right fit for every business. As a retail business for example, you may not get the most out of a solution built with service-based businesses in mind. This is not because their software is any better or worse, but rather because BI providers who have experience in delivering solutions for businesses like yours are more likely to be able to provide what you need.

A good way to see if a vendor has experience for businesses similar to yours is to have a look at their case studies, testimonials, and even their blog. There you will be able to find information on what kind of businesses the vendor has worked with, as well as the kind of solutions they have been able to provide.

Another key point to consider when choosing a vendor, is whether they offer support appropriate to your business. Do they have teams dedicated to helping customers get the most out of their solution? Do they have online and offline training opportunities? Or is the solution one that requires considerable ongoing support from your in-house IT team? Depending on your IT resources as well as the technical ability of your end-users, different levels of support might be needed. That being said, if in doubt, choose a vendor with more support, particularly for on-demand training. It is always better to have too much support available than to have too little, leaving the BI solutions un- or under used.

Promote a culture of learning

Promoting the right company culture within your business is another key to the success of your BI project. In particular, this relates to user adoption of your new BI solution. In order for employees at all levels to incorporate insights from the BI solution into their work, they need to be able and willing to change their old habits. This often easier said than done, particularly for employees who have been in a business or industry for a long time and are used to things being done a certain way.

It may be helpful to have all employees who will use the solution complete a series of training modules relevant to their job role, so that they are able to use the solution, and know its value. Next, you may set a goal for each employee to identify two key opportunities through the new solution. For example, a regional sales manager might identify an upsell opportunity within one customer, and identify another customer in decline and act before it becomes a lost customer.

Review and iterate

An important, and often forgotten, part of a BI project is to review and iterate after implementation. You may have implemented a solution that everyone seems happy with, but are there remaining pain points you are not addressing? Are there any frustrations with the way the solution performs? A good way to gain these insights is by surveying employees 6 months to 1 year after you complete implementation.

In many cases, contacting the BI provider to help solve remaining pain points is sufficient. However, in some cases, for example where the BI provider is unable or unwilling to provide the needed support or cannot measure metrics that are key to your business, you may need to look for a new solution. In that case, it’s a matter of finding what went wrong in the last project and starting the process again from the top.

Anne Louise Thorbecke is the digital marketing coordinator at Phocas Software. Phocas business intelligence software helps wholesale distributors, manufacturers, and retailers discover opportunities to increase sales, reduce costs and gain better visibility into their business. Next to her work at Phocas, Anne Louise is undertaking a degree in psychology, and is involved in not-for-profit work. Throughout her different commitments, she takes a keen interest in how technology can help both businesses and individuals.