New Users, New Rules: Best Practices for BI Teams with Online Databases

The proliferation of online databases allows businesses to centralize data collection in the Cloud and provide this information to anyone within the company. A such, Business Intelligence (BI) is no longer the domain of IT and statisticians, but rather that of any employee that can analyze data to improve the businesses.

Determining ROI

With a new pool of business users utilizing dashboards and data analysis tools, business leaders need to establish a set of guidelines to ensure that users stay on track and are efficiently mining data. Decision makers should ensure they do the following:

  • Determine the appropriate governance and structure for the organization.
  • For larger organizations, governance should be written and shared with employees utilizing business intelligence tools.
  • Ensure that employees understand the appropriate chain of command for initiating a project or report, and when it’s appropriate to deviate (and who to confirm this with).

When I asked David Handmaker, CEO of Next Day Flyers, how they created a hierarchy of command within the BI users in his company, he pointed to the necessity of his weekly “Return on Investment (ROI) Meetings.” In these ROI Meetings, analysts would present the status of their projects and data analyses. The executive team would use these meetings to ensure that analysts’ projects stay in-line with their departmental goals and the companies’ long-term plans. Other small organizations with a BI users across departments would be well-served to emulate this model.

  • Pinpoint an internal or external technical expert to assist experts.
  • Organizations should work to pair subject-matter experts (SMEs) with technical support that can best assist them. For some organizations, this may be in the form of a senior analyst that can assist new users in setting up a new report or running a new regression. Other companies may choose to utilize the technical contacts of their software provider for direction and assistance.

Handmaker augments the lack of technical expertise his SMEs have with a sole senior business intelligence analyst on his team, well-versed in the BI tools the company has deployed. Employees are asked to consultant with this analyst if they need to run a new report or are having difficulty using the application.

McAfee’s Alternate Approach

McAfee’s commission model team took a different approach. Bryan Bayless, VP of GTM Finance at McAfee, explained to me that he has built a team of SMEs and relied on the technical expertise of Anaplan, its application provider. Because the tool has been easy to use and the support team at Anaplan has been so helpful, they’ve been able to rely on them in rare times of need.

  • Document the success and failures of your BI users.
  • Keeping a stringent record of various reports and analyses can assist users both in the present and the future. In addition to the benefits of data ubiquity in the Cloud, keeping a Cloud databases of reporting helps, too. A report today may be connected to a regression processed tomorrow, and the connected analyses may lead to further insight.

In a recent interview with the director of business intelligence at a large humor website, the director explained the benefits of sharing data analyses via daily company-wide emails. He noted this practice increased the engagement of employees and the realization of the impact everyday actions have ont he entire company, as well as increasing the buy-in from executives on the importance of data analysis. The director explained the findings are commonly pointed to in both departmental meetings and “drive-by” hallway discussions.

  • Develop a method and process for finding new questions and answers.
  • Mature organizations are able to standardize their process, solve the initial problems that led to the implementation of the data analysis tools, and finally become a strategic resource within the organization.

According to Myron Weber, founder of Northwood Advisors, the “pivoting” of a BI team is the final step of maturation from business that utilizes tools to one that “re-defines the process through which questions are first asked and action is taken.” As data-driven improvement further becomes a differentiator between good and great businesses, leaders must appropriately prepare and empower their employees to effectively drive this mission.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Michael Koploy, analyst with the online consultancy


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