Selecting A New BI Tool

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When assessing your business intelligence capability, it is easy to get lost in the latest new features. Grabbing for the shiniest new tool, in the hope that it is going to solve all of your problems.

Photo of Michiel van Staden

Michiel van Staden, Data Analytics Lead, Absa
Michiel will be speaking at the Virtual Enterprise Data & Business Intelligence and Analytics Conference Europe 15-17 November 2021 on the subject, ‘Embedding a New BI Tool

There is a lot of hype out there around buzz words like data democratization, self service, AI etc.  Many promises are made around everybody in your organisation suddenly being able to extract their own insights, or even having it handed to them automatically.

Yes, drag and drop exists and data science can pick up trends or anomalies.  In my experience, however, having access to data does not necessarily give you insights and unfocused, machine generated findings, are rarely relevant or useful.

It’s still your data

Whatever gets done in terms of Business Intelligence, is ultimately built on top of your data.  Sometimes we’re lucky, and the nature of the processes involved generates relatively clean data.  Otherwise specific effort will need to be put into changing the processes, or cleaning the data after, for it to have any use.

Depending on an expert that knows the data, is great whilst they remain around, but often disastrous when they leave.  Count your blessings if they’ve taken the time to document their knowledge on the side of their desks, but rather formalise and prioritise data management responsibilities.

Holistic insights come from bringing all of your data together into one place.  Many approaches exist for this, but ultimately it needs to be possible to easily access and pull all relevant data together into a single view.

Why BI

Business intelligence is all about understanding your organisation, employees and customers better.  The reason for better understanding, boils down to being able to make improved decisions.

Very specific, very targeted decisions can increasingly be automated and monitored accordingly.  With machine learning, some of these can even be updated automatically, based on new data.

Bigger decisions around how to manage automated actions, tweak the strategy, lead employees, collaborate, respond to customers etc. all still ultimately involve people.

Business intelligence at its best, gives the relevant person, relevant information, when they need it, to make better informed decisions, in a way that they can digest accordingly.

These individuals and teams involved, also hold certain skills and have experience in doing things in a certain way.  Fundamentally changing this will take time, whilst leveraging existing capabilities and momentum can actually help you move forward much faster.

The BI tool cherry on top

Sometimes change is needed, and there is always room for improvement.  Starting out with a good honest assessment of where your employees are at, as well as being very clear about the specific capabilities you need for specific use cases, would however stand you in good stead.

For checking updates on one or two numbers, on a daily or even more frequent basis, constantly having to open or click through to a report or dashboard, is asking too much.  In those instances you need a way to present just the relevant information, at a glance.

Static reports are good for keeping track of trends over time, with sufficient context to stay on top of whether things are improving or deteriorating.  These are good for monthly management meetings.  Relevant comments need to be possible alongside numbers and graphs for those that only have time to flip through the slides.

Dynamic dashboards come into their own by adding a few relevant filters or slicers to static reports, to allow a bit of exploration around the edges and a few more questions to be answered on the spot in some of these sessions.

Towards more exploratory analysis, it is very hard to bring all relevant information into a dashboard that would be needed to freely and fully unpack the challenge or opportunity.  In these instances, the most fitting BI tool would be a person. In all instances, the success of your new BI tool, depends on your people.

Having been named the 2020 Datacon Africa Data Analytics Leader of the Year by Corinium Global Intelligence, Michiel has 14 years in data analytics experience across fraud prevention, credit risk & operations to digital & marketing, dealing with very practical business realities and successfully guiding strategy through collaborative data storytelling. As a lifelong learner, he is currently embarking on his Masters in Big Data Science, whilst increasingly sharing his learnings via MentorCruise mentoring, conferences, podcasts & writings and also providing 1-on-1 coaching to help others progress on their journeys.

Copyright Michiel van Staden, Data Analytics Lead, Absa

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