What Makes a Successful Business Intelligence Solution?
If you ask ten data professionals what a successful business intelligence solution looks like, you’ll get ten different answers. It’s one of those things most people know when they see it, but have trouble defining it.
For me, success is stakeholder satisfaction. There’s no better feeling than seeing a stakeholder’s eyes light up when you deliver a finished product that actually makes their job easier.
Finding out what goes into stakeholder satisfaction is the hard part. Ironically, giving the stakeholder exactly what they say they want does not work. There are many things that stakeholders just don't realize they expect from you. Meeting those unrealized expectations often means rejecting some of their ideas (in a nice way).
To illustrate what I mean, I want you to picture yourself around tax season. Let’s say you live in a town where there’s only two tax accountants:
Which would you hire? Debra by a long shot! Why is that? Because she actually fulfills your need when it comes to taxes, which is a higher return!
However, if a third accountant entered the mix who was great at taxes and had a great personality, that accountant would become your preferred choice.
And that’s what you have to consider with business intelligence solutions. There are certain needs that a stakeholder has and you have to meet those needs in a certain order to satisfy them.
Taylor Rodgers' Pyramid of BI Success
To illustrate this, I developed the Pyramid of Business Intelligence Success (and my proudest accomplishment).
This is a simple roadmap for approaching the business intelligence craft. Every level supports the level above it. That means you can’t make up for failure at the lowest levels with excellence at the top. Whether they know it or not, stakeholders care about every level of this pyramid.
#1: Data & Reporting Quality
This is at the bottom because it is the foundation for any BI solution. If your data is wrong or incomplete, the stakeholders will notice. You cannot charm your way out of it or use fancier data visualizations to make up for it. Eventually, they’ll stop trusting you personally and stop using your services.
This issue can be resolved by developing good habits at both the team and individual level around quality checking and moving away from manual processes in favor of automated ones.
#2: Data & Reporting Relevancy
Accurate-but-useless data isn't something the stakeholders will value. They won't call upon your services if you can't provide data that answers a question they have.
This issue can be resolved by determining what a stakeholder's objectives and questions are early in the discovery phase, and building solutions geared towards that.
#3: Reporting Readability
If data quality and data relevancy are non-issues, reporting readability can be used as a competitive advantage. New tools such as Tableau make it easier to take what’s in a database and present it in a visually appealing way for a wider audience. There are developers who make their whole careers specializing in this area and it’s where individual contributors can truly shine with their creativity. Next to data scientists, I'd say Tableau developers have the sexiest jobs in business intelligence.
This benefit can be enhanced by providing your team on-the-job training for BI reporting tools, as well as encouraging them to become better communicators.
#4: Timely Delivery
With solid data architecture and reporting supporting the solution, timely delivery becomes a non-issue. The irony is that not prioritizing this actually makes it easier to deliver on. Short-term deadlines means more hacky solutions and promising manual work over automated work. Those solutions become harder to maintain as your operation scales and that leads to delays in access for the stakeholder later on.
The best way to delivery timely data is to automate it. That means spending a few extra weeks in the discovery and design phase planning. If you do that, data will flow from the source to the reporting tool much faster.
#5: Positive Stakeholder Experience
Creating a positive stakeholder experience is my favorite part of the job. There's no better feeling than hearing praise from your stakeholder on how easy you make things for them, or how your report finally made their boss realize the action that was needed. I love it and, while some might doubt my sincerity, I seldom meet a stakeholder I don't like.
The best part is delivering a good experience to your stakeholder is easy once you mastered every level below on the pyramid. The stakeholder will already be in a good mood because they're getting accurate, relevant, easy-to-read, and timely data from you.
All you have to do to capitalize on all that hard work is improve your emotional intelligence. Always be clear in your communication, reduce ambiguity for your stakeholders, and give them your full and undivided attention. Don't show up late, complain about how busy you are, or type away on your computer when you're in a meeting with them.
In all honesty, you don't have to even master this level to be successful in business intelligence. I've met many talented people and whole organizations who had the worst personalities and somehow found moderate success because they still provided value.
I don't think that will be the case forever though. "Data Science" is a sexy, attractive career field for many people now. That means competition will become more fierce, especially as many paying companies realize that data science isn't the savior they thought it was for their problems and will invest less in data.
When you are competing with other top performing organizations or individuals, having a good personality makes you a far tougher competitor. You'll have a better pick of clients and job opportunities. Don't ever ignore this area.
This is Great – But How Do You Manage a BI Team?
I could write a whole book over that question. As a matter of fact, I am writing a book over that question!
Books take a long time to write though. In the meantime, check out this page.