We’ve all heard the tired cliché, ‘work smarter, not harder’. It’s oft repeated because it speaks to the value of operational efficiencies to maximize deliverables with minimal effort and/or investment. It doesn’t only apply to our own efforts and the work of our teams; it also applies to how we use resources, including technology. It can be extremely tempting when you first get your hands on a ‘new toy’, or in this case increased analytics capabilities, to go from zero to overkill faster than you can say cloud-based relational database engine. But just like our waistlines and our golf scores, sometimes less is more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a data nerd, I wrangle massive data sets for fun, just to see what I’ll find. (Don’t judge. Some people play Sudoku; I analyze data.) I do happen upon little gems of unique insights while aimlessly swimming in oceans of big data, but they’re not necessarily worth the time invested viewing figures from every angle, and this sort of free-form data exploration should never be your standard operating procedure.

To get the most value from your BI initiative, you need to have a clear strategy. You need to understand exactly what data you already own. You need to define what you don’t know about your industry, your customers, and your target market (because too often we don’t know what we don’t know). You need to determine what data, from the ever-growing ocean of available data, you need in order to provide actionable insights that will drive your business to new levels of success.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Strategic planning is a foundational process within every successful business. Through development of a strategic plan your organization analyzes the current state of the business, the industry, and the market, determines areas of focus to ensure growth, establishes a course of action to achieve those initiatives, and sets in place measures to determine whether the plan is working or needs to be revised. Your BI initiative needs its own strategic planning process so that you’re not ‘throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks’, while throwing money out the window on unnecessary investments.

Narendra Mulani, of the Harvard Business Review states, “Companies can get stuck trying to analyze all that’s possible and all that they could do through analytics, when they should be taking that next step of recognizing what’s important and what they should be doing — for their customers, stakeholders, and employees. Discovering real business opportunities and achieving desired outcomes can be elusive. To overcome this, companies should pursue a simpler path to uncovering the insight in their data and making insight-driven decisions that add value.”

The first step to any successful plan is a thorough analysis of the current state, and your BI plan is no different. It’s imperative that you understand every aspect of data analytics throughout your workforce.

  • What analytics solutions are already in place?
  • To what extent they are being used by staff, at all levels, throughout the business?
  • What is your current data structure?
  • What external data sources are being used, to what extent, for what purpose?
  • How connected are your current analytics solutions and data sources across the business?
  • What is your current expenditure on analytics solutions?
  • What is your budget for BI investments, both in the immediate future and in long-term planning?
  • What is working well within the current system?
  • What needs are not being met by the current system?
  • What are the key challenges within your business that you’d like to have the data to address?

Once you’ve thoroughly investigated those questions, and any additional questions relevant to your business, you can begin to strategize what systems and personnel are required to meet your analytics needs within your budget. According to Boris Evelson, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, “deploying the technology is the easiest part of any BI initiative. . . Getting the personnel and processes portions right are much more challenging.” There’s no one-size-fits-all solution; you’re going to need to ask more questions to determine what solutions will best serve your organization.

  • Are you better served with an on premises solution, a cloud-based solution, or a combination of the two?
  • Is your current storage capacity sufficient or do you need to increase capacity?
  • Do you have the IT staff required to deploy and maintain new solutions?
  • If not, do you want to increase your IT staff or does it make more sense to retain the services of BI specialists, like you’ll find here at Aptude?
  • What training will your staff require?
  • What security and privacy concerns need to be addressed?

Whatever you decide is the best fit for your organization, make sure that you’re building in the infrastructure and budget to accommodate growth and improvement as well as to adapt to changes within your industry and advances in technology. You want your investment to grow with you, not to become obsolete once the next generation of becomes available.

The final, and vital step, in planning the unique BI strategy that is best suited to your organization, is choosing what metrics you’ll use to determine what’s working and what needs to be revised or refined. The evaluation process is an integral part of your BI strategy, because what good is a data analytics program if it’s not analyzing its own effectiveness? You want your metrics to capture more than just the usual KPIs so that you are armed with the resources to continuously improve your processes. Of course, you’ll still monitor sales, lead generation, and conversion rates, but you can also monitor internal data that will inform you of what’s working well and what needs to be adjusted. You can monitor BI usage by team and department to determine where additional training is needed. Boris Evelson recommends, “Rather than putting up roadblocks, monitor what they’re doing, what data sources they’re accessing, what tools they are using and how they are using them, whether business unit A is using BI more than business unit B.” By fine tuning your metrics and monitoring your program, you can gain insights into best practices and operational efficiencies, as well as discovering opportunities for improvement. Those insights will allow you to make any necessary adjustments as soon as they become apparent.

Your BI plan needs to be built around the unique needs of your business, your industry, and your customer base. That said, there are some universal strategies that are relevant to any business, regardless of your industry or business model.

Keep Moving Forward with Aptude

Aptude is your own personal IT professional services firm. We provide our clients with first class resources in a continuous, cost-containment fashion.

Our support services will free up your senior IT staff from the overwhelming burden of day-to-day maintenance issues. Now they’ll have time to launch those new projects and applications you’ve been waiting for. Simply put, we can free up your resources and contain your costs. Let’s have a quick chat to discuss our exclusive services.

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Pool Your Resources

Your business likely already has a vast body of useful data, but how connected are your internal data sources? Your market research team is defining your market, your marketing team is tracking actions on your digital marketing campaigns and your sales team tracks opportunities in your CRM, but is your business connecting these pools of information into a single source? If not, you’re only seeing your customers and potential customers in one dimension depending on the data source you’re viewing them from. By combining your existing data, you build a more robust and multi-faceted view of your existing and potential customers that allows you to better meet their needs and to reach them where and when they’re most likely to act.

According to Garrett Gan, Co-Founder and CEO of Thalamus, Inc., Business intelligence is having access to all your business data, regardless of platform, in a singular, unified dashboard. This can include customer data from your CRM system, email marketing, and website engagements tracked in your data management platform, customer interactions on user chat tools like Intercom.io — all aggregated into a single holistic view of the customer and their interactions with your business.”

Integrating data sources has become so easy that there’s no excuse for allowing data silos to exist separately from each other. For example, Power BI provides direct connections to an ever growing list of outside sources, including: Google Analytics, Facebook, Salesforce, SAP, Marketo, Mailchimp, Zendesk, Amazon Redshift, Snowflake, Quickbooks Online and many others. Many of these sources can be configured to automatically refresh. This provides you access to the most recent and relevant information, within a single platform, ready to be transformed into actionable insights. So, if you haven’t integrated your data sources yet, what are you waiting for? No, seriously, what are you waiting for? Go integrate your data sources and come back to this article when you’re finished.

Consider the (External) Source

There will always be information needs beyond what you own internally. According to the BI Survey 17, “18% of companies are using 20 or more data sources for decision-making,” and, “Approximately half of all respondents think that the number of data sources they use is increasing. The growth rate for external data sources is a bit higher than for internal sources.” One of the biggest problems with external data sources is usability, or compatibility with your existing data structure and format.

As I discussed in a recent post, cleaning “dirty data” can be both frustrating and time consuming. In a 2014 survey, 81% of respondents indicated existing challenges with data integration of external sources. In the same survey, 43% of respondents indicated that a lack of data integration was a major challenge with external data sources, 34% indicated that manual data processing of external data was necessary, and 31% estimated that integration projects could take more than 3 months.

With free sources, like government, NGO, and academic data sets, the cost of data normalization is an expected investment. When you’re paying for your data, however, you want to ensure that the data you receive is ready to use. While you may think that would be a given for a paid service, it’s not. Learn from my mistakes. I’ve worked with data firms that have horrible data maintenance. Upon investigation of one dataset it became apparent that those charged with data entry and upkeep weren’t familiar with data analytics or the industry that the data pertained to. The most prevalent problem that I’ve seen is inconsistencies in data formatting that need to be dealt with before the data can be matched to internal data sets.

My advice on using external data sets is to do your homework before you sign anything. If you have the option of a free trial period make the most of that time. Take a deep dive into the data set to find any potential issues and then inform the organization that the fee needs to be adjusted to account for the time necessary to normalize the data. If a trial period isn’t an option, contact current and former users of the service and be ready with detailed questions about potential challenges with the dataset. What file format are data exports? Is the formatting consistent? Are units of measurement clear and consistent? Are data fields stored correctly (number, text, etc.)? Is the data ready to be analyzed as-is, or was transformation necessary in order to query against internal data? What type of search, reporting, and export features are available? Does the service provide integration into your existing software (Salesforce, PowerBI, etc.)? Ultimately, do those users feel that the data set is worth the investment?

Conclusion

Every business needs a BI initiative that will deliver evidence-based insights in order to make the best possible decisions. In order to produce those insights, your BI initiative needs to be well developed around a solid strategic plan. When you take the time to understand what your team is currently using and what they need, and integrate that into higher level decision making needs, you can leverage your existing assets and prioritize the most critical data needs moving forward as you build a more robust program.

Whether you’re considering implementing a new BI initiative or you’re ready to upgrade an existing program, the experts at Aptude are ready to assist your organization with every step of the process, from planning, to deployment, and through ongoing monitoring, maintenance, and adaptations. We have the resources, expertise, and experience to ensure that your organization has access to all the insights necessary to make data driven decisions that meet the demands of your stakeholders now and as the industry climate changes. Let us guide you through the most important investment your company can make towards your future success.

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Looking for intelligent technological solutions? Seeking consultation on your upcoming projects? Need a quote for services? Contact Aptude’s executive team directly. It’s amazing just how much one little email can rapidly accelerate your productivity.

Uday Mehta

Managing Partner

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Guy DeRosa

Managing Partner

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Srinath Parepally

Managing Partner

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Keep Moving Forward with Aptude

Aptude is your own personal IT professional services firm. We provide our clients with first class resources in a continuous, cost-containment fashion.

Our support services will free up your senior IT staff from the overwhelming burden of day-to-day maintenance issues. Now they’ll have time to launch those new projects and applications you’ve been waiting for. Simply put, we can free up your resources and contain your costs. Let’s have a quick chat to discuss our exclusive services.

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