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Business Intelligence: Farm to Table

When you think of business intelligence (BI), the first thing likely to come to mind is a sharp-looking dashboard. A dashboard is one of the outputs or deliverables of a BI project. But BI is more than a dashboard.

The real value of BI lies in examining your business, defining what success looks like, and creating the tools that will communicate your vision and track your progress. BI enables process change by working through these activities.

Consider, for a moment, the following scenario:

A customer enters a nice restaurant, sits at her table with elegantly arranged flatware, reviews the menu, and places an order. The customer’s waiter walks into the kitchen and, after a brief wait, returns to the table with the customer’s meal in hand. The customer enjoys the meal and leaves the restaurant.

This scenario can be used as a metaphor for BI. Consider a BI dashboard as the outcome or the “meal.” Foundational work must be completed behind the scenes to prepare and deliver a quality meal. The same is true with the delivery of a BI dashboard. Successful BI implementations take great consideration up front before a strategic dashboard is delivered. While defining strategy, it is important to understand the dashboard is the least important part of the process.

Mise en Place or BI Strategy and Technical Discovery
An important step in delivering the “meal” or outcome is figuring out what needs to be done to deliver it. When the chef receives the customer’s order, he relies on the day’s preparatory work and mise en place (“putting in place”) to properly execute the cooking and plating of the food. The questions that must be answered before considering the dashboard’s design or purpose are the BI mise en place.

First, understand the why behind your BI strategy:

  • Why do you want a BI strategy?
  • What are the goals and objectives and how does your BI strategy align with the mission and vision of your organization?
  • What does success look like in one year? Three years? Five years?

Second, make sure your data is in order to accomplish your objectives:

  • Does the data necessary for populating the dashboard exist?
  • Are all of your data sources “talking” to one another?
  • Does the business have the right technology in place? Is it implemented effectively?
  • Are we accurately capturing data for the types of behaviors we’re trying to measure?
  • What are the mechanisms for extracting data from my source systems? Is there a limit or a price associated with data extraction?

A BI strategy starts when you answer these questions. The answers provide a firm direction for the project to follow.

BI as Your Competitive Advantage
The BI process’s “cooking” phase equates to applying the BI strategy to your business as it exists today. Many businesses find this process simultaneously scary and validating. Long-held assumptions about success or day-to-day operations are tested against the rigors of data and analysis. When a company finishes the discovery process and displays information on a dashboard, it’s comparable to tasting the meal. You likely ask: Is it satisfying? Does it fulfill your need?

If a meal isn’t enjoyable, a chef will refine the recipe to improve it. Companies that get the most value out of a BI solution do the same. They evaluate their baseline and look for areas to improve. Just as a chef would continue to refine a dish, a business should actively work toward its vision of the end product and the effect it will have on the end user.

Our team approaches BI solutions with that mindset. A dashboard is a BI deliverable, not the complete product. The limited screen real estate of a dashboard naturally forces the business to declare what it cares about. The discussions that precede those visualization decisions, at their core, are more about what the business values and how it wants to grow. KSMC’s BI services allow businesses to define what they value, see how those values differ from the current state and create the tools that will allow them to track their progress and communicate across the organization.

Food is, at its most simplistic, fuel for our bodies, and dashboards are simply visualization tools. In the right hands, food can become a special experience, and dashboards can be a stepping stone to business transformation.

If your business is interested in pursuing BI as a strategy for transformation, contact our BI team.

About the Author

Brian Banta is a Project Manager for KSM Consulting. Brian works with clients to ensure the successful project initiation, execution, control, and delivery of projects. Connect with him on LinkedIn.