Drive Business Insight With Effective Business Intelligence Strategy

Boris Evelson, Vice President, Principal Analyst - Forrester Research, Inc.

How does an enterprise—especially a large, global one with multiple product lines and multiple enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications—make sense of operations, logistics, and finances?

This paper by Forrester Research will answer this question, and provide the insights you need to ensure your organization is equipped to do the same.

We've also pulled out the first several pages of the whitepaper for you to read. Download the PDF on the right to read the rest.

Drive Business Insight With Effective BI Strategy

Your business will not succeed and may not even survive without Enterprise BI

Over the past five years, BI has morphed from an enterprise application, an initiative, and a program into a key corporate asset that enterprises use for differentiation. Unless you treat BI as a key corporate asset, with all of the funding, governance, oversight, and control implications, you will risk falling behind your competitors.

You can no longer substitute ERP reports and spreadsheets for Enterprise BI

Today, diverse data comes from many sources and has many diff erent meanings to diff erent stakeholders. To support such a mission-critical environment with so much volume, complexity, and diversity, BI strategy, architecture, platform, tools, and applications must be state of the art and well-oiled for high performance and agility.

Earlier-Generation BI approaches are no longer sufficient

While traditional BI processes, architectures, and technologies can make BI robust, scalable, and function rich, they oft en fail at making BI agile and fl exible. To help you address this latest BI challenge, make sure that Agile BI (in addition to traditional BI) is front and center in your BI strategy.

Leverage BI to get a 360-degree view of your business

CEOs and other senior executives must identify ways to improve their enterprise performance by boosting profitability, raising market share, and leapfrogging competitors. But achieving these objectives is not as simple as just looking at the numbers. What about nonfinancial measures (e.g., customer loyalty and employee satisfaction) that don’t show up in financial accounting? How do you quickly and efficiently get the full 360-degree view of your business?

In order to execute on business strategy, business and IT executives need a business-focused, strategic, and pragmatic way to measure their finances and operations. Without such measurements — supported by enterprisewide BI deployments — businesses can’t link operational results to strategy. Organizations will also find it difficult to get a coherent view of their internal and external processes, customers, logistics, operations, and finances.

Business Effectiveness And Efficiencies Drive BI Strategies

Many business executives understand just one type of a language when approving projects and initiatives: the language of return on investment (ROI). Unfortunately, the 1990s and early 2000s produced many horror stories of failed BI initiatives with runaway scope and unfulfilled ROI. This was partially due to an overreliance on structured approaches and earlier-generation technologies. While such stories continue to exist, newer approaches such as Agile BI are changing the BI equation. These approaches lead to successes such as:

  • Cost savings and cost avoidance from automating manual processes. There are plenty of manual data collection and report production processes in most enterprises, such as the processes used in monthly financial reporting. Many of these processes use spreadsheets, desktop-based database management systems (DBMSes), and custom coding, all of which take significant time and effort to develop, maintain, and run. BI-enabled processes allow organizations to do more with less as well as avoid future development and support costs.
  • Cost savings and cost avoidance from consolidating BI infrastructure. Most enterprises still use multiple BI platforms, which in the majority of cases are just remnants of legacy environments, recent mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and other non-technology-specific baggage. Consolidating these multiple environments results in cost savings and future cost avoidance from the reduced number of licenses, more negotiating power with the strategic BI vendor, and fewer development, support, and infrastructure resources.
  • Top- and bottom-line impact from specific BI applications. BI can play a significant role in addressing multiple business process challenges. For example, a large North American insurance company used BI to lower customer churn by collecting relevant data about customer demographics, psychographics, and buying behavior. It then organized that data in a data mart and ran a series of analytical exercises and tests to find correlations between customer churn and other variables and events. In cases like these, organizations can find a direct correlation between BI and increased revenues.
  • BI impact on overall enterprise performance. Finding the direct correlation between cross-enterprise BI-based decision-making and overall levels of enterprise performance (sales, profitability, stock price, etc.) can be a tricky, and often an elusive, endeavor. One study cites output and productivity metrics that are 5% to 6% higher than what would be expected given nonenterprise-grade BI-based decision-making.2 This study also found a correlation between BI and other performance measures such as asset utilization, return on equity, and market value. In large enterprises, this productivity gain can easily translate into millions of dollars.
  • BI as a profit center. Got data? Why not package it in a productized offering? Companies such as financial data providers and retailers package their financial and point of sale (POS) data into industry-vertical- and domain-specific analytical offerings and sell it to their partners, such as suppliers and distributors. For example, some of the top players in this space — Acxiom, Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters, and the US credit bureaus Equifax, Experian Information Solutions, and TransUnion — long ago figured out how to monetize their data. Businesses can build an eCommerce infrastructure to deliver these data services on their own or via established data provider mechanisms such as Microsoft Windows Azure Marketplace.

What Is This BI Thing, Anyway?

Are you now convinced that you can’t manage your business without measurement, AKA BI? But when we talk about BI, what do we really mean? Is it reporting? Is it analytics? Dashboards? Data warehouses and data marts? The easiest way to describe BI is as follows: Imagine raw data — bits and bytes, 1s and 0s — on the left side of a picture, and that is the entire universe of data that’s relevant to your business. But you can’t glean insights and make decisions just by looking at 1s and 0s. You need to turn that data into information. Congratulations, you just defined business intelligence! But BI is obviously more complex than this would suggest, so we need a more precise definition:

Business intelligence is a set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies — supported by organizational structures, roles, and responsibilities — that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information used to enable more-effective strategic, tactical, and operational insights and decision-making that contribute to improving overall enterprise performance.

Use Forrester’s Prepare, Plan, Build, Run Methodology To Streamline Your BI Strategy

Firms struggle with BI strategies and programs because turning data into information is an open-ended concept. They often go in the wrong direction because of: 1) traditional (and often outdated) views and approaches, and 2) a focus on technology instead of business, which results in BI programs that are tactical and only project-based. What these firms need is an approach to BI that, while staying true to the importance of long-term vision and looking across silos, provides the flexibility to accommodate varying levels of resource commitment and the political, historical, and cultural obstacles that BI programs often face. Think of the business intelligence playbook as your BI bible — it should guide your decisions every step of the way.

Prepare for your BI program

Understand that BI is a journey toward a moving target — and not just another project. Considering that it’s also an expensive journey, you must prepare well. As part of the preparation cycle, Forrester recommends at a minimum asking yourself three sets of questions: 1) What does the future of BI look like? Have I prepared for the long haul? 2) What kind of impact will BI adoption have on my business and IT organizations? 3) What is the current state of BI in my organization, and how do we stack up against our peers and competitors?

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About the author


Boris Evelson

Vice President, Principal Analyst - Forrester Research, Inc.

Boris serves Business Process professionals. He is a leading expert in business intelligence (BI) — a set of processes, methodologies, and technologies used to transform raw data into meaningful, useful, and action-oriented enterprise information. Boris delivers strategic guidance, helping enterprises define BI strategies, governance, and architectures and identify vendors and technologies that help them put information to use in business processes and end user experiences.

Boris' current research focuses on the practical and actionable best practices for building BI infrastructure and applications, such as BI business cases, architectural options, organizational structures, and vendor selection. Boris continues to explore emerging trends in next-generation BI, such as agile BI architecture and development approaches, in-memory analytics, advanced data visualization, convergence of structured data and unstructured content analytics, process-driven and operational BI, and many others.