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Business Intelligence & Data Management

2011 BI Survey Results:
Converting Data into Decisions

by Fred Hargrove, Ajit Kale, Chris Wade, and Bill Brydges, MorganFranklin

Business intelligence (BI) leverages information to help organizations make business decisions. At the most basic level, the objective of BI is to provide decision makers with timely and relevant information in order to make faster, more informed decisions. Companies are often bogged down by a plethora of data within and outside their enterprises. They can gain a strategic advantage by easily condensing that data into reports or dashboards, which can then be leveraged by decision makers to track how key business drivers are performing.

Whether dealing with an established enterprise or a growing company, building the processes and tools to quickly sift through and analyze data—and get it to the right people at the right time—is critical. Companies make large investments in BI solutions to ease the flow of information from various sources to business users. But most find that business users still spend an inordinate amount of time and expend a great deal of manual effort collecting and analyzing information. This indicates that the full value of BI has yet to be realized.

MorganFranklin recently conducted a BI survey and asked participants to share their thoughts around priorities and issues within their existing environments. Participants represented various levels of organizations that spanned numerous industries, including communications, finance, government, and manufacturing. The survey results captured the objectives and challenges of organizations as they attempt to convert data into decisions. The following are key observations from the survey results.

Don't Let Data Quality Derail BI Solutions
Data integration and data quality were most important to the users surveyed, with more than 80% branding these areas as either important or critical. Given the current regulatory environment, the focus on data quality is not surprising. Government regulations have dramatically increased and companies have had to invest in tools to ensure that reported information is accurate and meets compliance standards. Inadequate data quality also directly affects the adoption of BI solutions, with most users quickly reverting to spreadsheets or other tools when faced with issues related to data quality. Several years ago, Gartner predicted that more than 50% of data warehouse projects would have limited acceptance or be outright failures because of a lack of attention to data quality issues. Our survey reinforced this notion, indicating that data quality remains the biggest impediment to the success of BI solutions.

Achieve End-to-End Data Integration
The implementation of a budgeting, planning, and forecasting solution was respondents' second priority, with 60% deeming it important or critical. As BI systems evolve, companies are looking to integrate their budgeting and planning solutions with reporting and analytical solutions to see a complete picture of the organization. An integrated solution allows organizations to have more visibility into actual results to explain budget variances and drive root cause analysis around off-target key performance indicators (KPIs). This capability is critical when trying to manage operational costs. As a result, most BI system vendors are including budgeting and planning modules in their BI suites to address the marketplace's desire for an integrated solution.

Deploy Tactical BI While Adopting New Tools
Microsoft Excel and Access are still the favorite tools for reporting and ad hoc analysis, with nearly 66% of respondents indicating that they are active parts of their BI solutions. Almost half of the respondents who use Excel or Access consider them tools of choice, while others use them for ad hoc analysis and reporting. This statistic indicates that BI implementations are failing to ensure that developed solutions are adopted. Users must be trained on new tools to foster the migration away from Excel and Access. Companies should carefully manage the use of these tools to resolve data quality issues and reduce operational and financial risk. While Access and Excel serve as good interim solutions, the true objective should be a better enterprise-wide solution.

How can tactical BI help your organization manage big data? Read "5 Hot Tech Projects to Boost Your IT Career" on InfoWorld.

Provide Proof of ROI
Almost all respondents agreed that BI solutions provide a great competitive advantage. However, they indicated that calculating the return on investment (ROI) on a BI project to support the business case has been challenging. Senior management understands the importance of BI but wants to see supporting evidence that BI projects are worth the investment. Companies should include specific metrics and measures from the outset to support ROI analysis. Measures to consider are costs associated with existing infrastructure, as well as time spent generating and aggregating information versus analyzing results. There are also numerous qualitative benefits to BI, but they are more difficult to measure (e.g., quick turnaround by sales staff to provide relevant information to the client, availability of instant analysis to make on-the-spot informed decisions, reduction in end-of-quarter stress, and compliance reporting).

Expect an Upswing in BI Investments
More than 75% of the companies that responded are planning to increase or maintain the same level of investment in their BI solutions. Amid the current economic climate, an increase in BI investments is a sign that companies recognize the value of properly implemented BI solutions. BI has achieved this importance because it is an integral part of the decision-making process—and we expect this trend to continue in 2012.

Defining process-oriented BI is simple. Providing the roadmap for how to achieve it is another story. Learn more in "Process-Oriented BI: Navigating the Road of Continuous Improvement" on Information Management.

The survey results were also in line with our observations gathered from clients and the overall marketplace. Companies are seeking ways to gain a competitive advantage by leveraging the power of business intelligence. Businesses should take a hard look at data management strategies and take concrete steps to implement data quality initiatives. Improvements in data quality, along with strong change management procedures and a focused BI strategy, will help move users out of their comfort zones—Excel and Access—and into the world of forward-looking decision making and planning. This approach will enable organizations to embrace the full capabilities of implemented BI solutions and truly convert data into decisions.

Who is MorganFranklin?

MorganFranklin is an execution-oriented business consulting and technology solutions company. We deliver financial management, performance improvement, and national security solutions to industry and government clients. Our professionals work hard to help clients achieve peak performance and mission success.