Steve Brennan, VP, Data Strategy and Analytics, Carhartt
In nine words, this article is calling out one of the hottest areas of technology – Business Intelligence (BI) software providers. In a world full of countless companies investing significant money in innovation, acquisition, and marketing of data visualizations technologies, including some very big players, how could the tools be missing the mark? The miss largely has to do with BI software companies’ assessment of where businesses are on their journey of adopting Business Intelligence and what the key to a long-term investment in BI should look like. It comes down to three main themes: the pitch, the scope, and the experience.
It’s not the right sales pitch
As a technology leader who is on the receiving end of marketing campaigns from software providers, I receive many pitches for how data visualizations can transform a company. Pitches on rapid deployment and easy data migration. It’s very enticing and my business partners love it. What I have yet to hear in a pitch is one of the most significant features we should be considering in the field of Business Intelligence: longevity. Ensuring that the visualizations built today will continue to be relevant and accurate in 3 years. It is not about how easy it is to build and support ONE dashboard, but rather how easy it is to build and support an eco-system where there are DOZENS of dashboards that all work in harmony.
It’s exciting to think about purchasing a tool and in a short time making a significant splash in your organization with quick value. There’s nothing wrong with that motivation; often quick value is essential. However, fast forward three years. The hype is over and the company is familiar with the tool you selected. As a BI team, the backlog you’ve created for more dashboards is a testament to the buy-in and adoption. The business now wants more. What needs to happen next is what separates a good BI team from a great BI team. Because, now, it’s the job of the BI team to maintain a portfolio of MANY dashboards that all make sense amongst each other and are consistent and always accurate. It’s about the ecosystem of visualizations.
The solution to this is a solid data architecture for how the team builds the underlying data model(s). Successful BI teams can do this well regardless of tools; so this isn’t new. However, this is not the story being told in the sales demo. It’s time for software providers to pivot to this as their pitch. This is what differentiates products. Answers to how to manage the longevity, the oversight required, and the features that allow the team to keep things stitched together. This will help organizations select the right platform that is there for them for the long-haul.
Not all insights are dashboards
The second area where BI tools are missing the mark is on the overall end user experience.
BI is not “build it and they will come”, adoption requires training and evangelism
I’m not talking about the color palettes or the sophisticated graphs and widgets that are available. It’s about how the vast BI content is being managed.
When listening to what business leaders are craving, it is not just nicer looking dashboards. It is also to have one simple and intuitive place to find business metrics, no matter the form. This isn’t said explicitly, but you can read it between the lines when you continue to deliver informative and relevant BI content, yet you still hear claims of “zero visibility”. That’s because the sources for how business leaders read and run their business continue to be vast and disparate and always will be, even with a mature BI platform. We need to embrace this, not ignore it.
Countless insights get passed around in files; files never touched by the BI team. But that doesn’t mean those files aren’t “BI.” Think of materials used to make strategic decisions: financial benchmarking reports provided by your bank, competitive intelligence PDFs sent by your market research team. These are all examples of BI. Yet they remain separate and treated differently.
Why can’t this content be available within the same experience as a BI dashboard? While browsing formal content provided by your BI team, right next to it is content not built by the BI team, but just as relevant. It’s time to start thinking of our BI tools as BI content management tools, not just dashboard tools. This is true “Business Intelligence”. This is what is being asked of us, and I’m excited for the day when our tools embrace this, too.
BI tools need to act more like e-commerce
Lastly, the all-too-overlooked aspect of BI – training and on-boarding. BI is not “build it and they will come”, adoption requires training and evangelism. Like any technology adoption, when someone joins the company or a new role, in the absence of a training program, they learn much of what they should be using from their peers. In the world of BI, where new content is always being built, how do we train the trainer (or “train the peer”) so outdated content isn’t spread, rather the latest content is driven to the person more easily?
Think of e-commerce. The e-commerce industry is laser-focused on improving the merchandising and marketing aspects of online selling with the goal of hyper-personalization. The most relevant product is presented to you based on understanding your interests and your behaviors. Why can’t we do the same to drive BI content? BI content should have ratings and reviews, favorites, sharing, showcasing, and sorting/filtering, just like e-commerce. Unused content should naturally go to the back page making way for the new and more relevant content. If you aspire to be like Jennifer in sales because she outperforms everyone else, you would probably want to know what Jennifer views on a consistent basis to run her business. This needs to be possible to best drive relevant BI content. We’re starting to see this concept a bit more in the tools today, but it’s still lagging compared to what we’ve come to expect in the world of e-commerce. The expectation is the two experiences are the same.
Be ready now, the tools will get there
This isn’t intended to simply judge the software providers. I know some platforms do pieces of this well. However, the whole package matters, and I don’t see the tool options getting there soon.
We all need to start thinking about BI and the underlying data this way now, even if the tools aren’t fully there. My bet is they will be. And if we put in the discipline and operate this way now, it will pay off once the tools catch up. This power of longevity, cohesion, tailored delivery, and the social elements outlined above will unleash a whole new level of BI. And answer the true demands our business partners have for visibility.
Not until then, can we finally and unequivocally claim that our organizations are fully data-driven. That’s when everybody wins.