Some keys for a successful BI project

As you set to start working on a new BI project, you will need to address many technical issues sooner or later. Picking technologies and vendors, assembling teams, and working across the corporate silos to bring together information that does not come together under regular circumstances.. Well, before you get deep into the weeds of selecting ETL technologies or dimensional modeling, I would like to suggest you must consider whether the following conditions exist for your BI project to succeed:

Executive sponsorship and direction“it sounds great, but honestly, I got to run to my next meeting”

Real commitment to process improvement through better information and analysis is a very difficult to find. This is a lot harder than it sounds…  Almost any manager will tell you these are very important goals, and they will be happy to support them, but few can sustain a long term commitment to such goals in lieu of the daily grind of operational issues. Fires emerge everyday across the company, clients, investors, vendors, internal politics and so on and so forth, are all looking for immediate attention to their current burning issue. Production, manufacturing, supply, logistics, these are all aspects of your company that contribute directly to your bottom line. When you put BI in competition with shipping products, there’s no question who will win. Put on top of this a complex domain that sprawls across departments, technical and business resources and is not cheap to boot, and you start thinking it’s surprising any manager in their right mind would even want to hear about BI, right? Well, obviously not.  But being able to look above the “problem of the day” to get real understanding of the business is the single most important thing you will need management to embrace to be successful with a BI project.

Organizational culture that can accept change “the dashboard is stunning, but I need to download it to excel to finish my close process”

Business Intelligence content is typically an agent of change. Providing transparency into information that is typically kept away from most employees (and even managers), allowing analysis, historical trending, and the ability to make informed observations and deductions about the efficiency of various processes, can be very unpopular with those who prefer to keep things as they are, preferring their “job security” over improvements. If you don’t think the audience of your BI project is willing to accept what it may reveal, don’t bother getting started. If no one wants to hear about it, it doesn’t matter how impressive your data warehouse, report or dashboard will be, they will simply not use them. Which brings us back to the first point, you will need someone at the top who can MAKE people change, even if they don’t like to…

Content driven methodology“we need to consolidate client data from 123 source systems to deliver accurate reports, we should have that by mid next year”

Your Business Intelligence project or initiative must tell a story. The story needs to be compelling and exciting. It needs to be a game changing story for your company, allowing people to invent new ways of doing their work, enabling them to dream up and exercise opportunities for improving processes and work flows. These stories are your BI content, and your execution, or methodology has to evolve around telling these stories, delivering this content. This focus can get lost very easily when faced with the enormity of the data integration or enterprise data warehousing efforts that will be required to produce the stories. But don’t lose sight of the end result. The warehouse is just a place to store things. It’s the insight that is stored in it that people are looking for, and that insight has to remain the focus of your initiative. If you spend three years building your warehouse without delivering actionable and relevant insight, or stories, not only you will likely find yourself looking for a new job, you will also likely learn that the warehouse you built is no longer relevant. Delivering a new BI capability every three months is not only doable, but it is the only way to succeed with a BI initiative.

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