CXO

What to look for when you're selecting business intelligence tools

Effective strategic decisions are informed by access to relevant and timely data. Here are some tips on what to look for in a BI dashboard so you can get the most useful insights.

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According to Gartner's 2017 Magic Quadrant report on business intelligence and analytics platforms, "there is significant evidence to suggest that the business intelligence (BI) and business analytics (BA) platform market's multi-year transition to modern agile business-led analytics is now mainstream." Both active and planned cloud BI deployments jumped from hovering around 45% for the last three years to 51% in 2017.

BI advances team performance and success ratios by providing qualitative and quantitative information and for greater clarity and perspective. Regardless of the type of project, industry or role, teams can create, access, and leverage BI dashboards to gain valuable real-time insights from multiple internal and external sources.

The many benefits

Companies are beginning to realize the benefits these tools offer that increase the accuracy in the decision-making process at the project, department, and strategic levels. For example, Wix, a website development platform, which grew from a small startup to over a hundred million users was able to harness the power of one of the Gartner "visionaries," Sisense, to react quickly to changes based on insights derived from user's behavioral data from a number of different sources, reacting, and adapting swiftly to changes.

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By deploying Sisense, Wix was able bypass the need for additional IT resources, allowing business users to extract insights for themselves. Wix now had a way to handle vast pools of data fast, thanks to a combination of columnar database schema and in-memory technology. Being able to leverage the capabilities of Sisense meant that Wix could work with the high-volume data streams created by their clients, without slowing them down, or requiring them to invest in expensive, large-scale IT infrastructure to process it.

Some of the other benefits of BI tools also include:

  • enabling instant analysis and visualization of both big and disparate datasets
  • having a 360-degree view of the business across all the departments
  • helping to create organizational efficiencies
  • increasing business productivity and accuracy
  • aiding in the discovery of new revenue streams
  • the ability for teams to use quantitative and qualitative data to increase focus for improved outcomes

"One glance provides everything teams need to know about the task at hand while delivering the in-the-moment snapshot and progress update project leaders rely on," said Eric Bergman, vice president of product management at Changepoint. "Project leaders benefit from better visibility and the simplicity of dashboards boosts team productivity by providing a place for teams to work together to spot bottlenecks, troubleshoot or reduce risks, and stay on top of deadlines."

SEE: Survey: Is your company acting on insights from big data? (Tech Pro Research)

How can teams practically leverage tools to improve specific Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tracking?

Before beginning any project, Bergman said, it's vital to know what success looks like regardless of how you plan to manage the work. So, before diving in, consider which KPIs you should be tracking and improving. And then consider which tools will help your team achieve those goals. "Teams and projects - even in the same organization or department - have different needs," he said. "Having the right tool or set of tools for the job can encourage collaboration, boost productivity and deliver visibility at strategic and tactical levels. While team members need to manage their individual contributions in a simple view, stakeholders want to know how their portfolio of the project is affecting the bottom line. It's a balancing act but one that can be achieved with the right mix of tools and capabilities."

Yanina Wolfe, a client success manager at EightSpokes, explained that improving KPI tracking is about much more than just providing progress updates. "It's about having the necessary information to make the right decision and to address issues before they spiral out of control," she said. "There are new types of enterprise project collaboration applications emerging that bring together all stakeholders involved in a project across the enterprise, globally, including external partners. These solutions are cloud-based, so they are easily accessible to various users wherever they work." Wolfe believes the key to tracking KPIs and running an effective project efficiently is visibility: "When managers can get an accurate picture of the entire project, they can more easily track key data, and all of the players can better collaborate."

What are key at-a-glance BI features to look for?

Wolfe recommended that companies look for solutions that track the following:

  • Overall project and individual KPI progress
  • Accessible and intuitive usability
  • Ability to take action right inside of the solution vs. needing to communicate in an outside product
  • Generate reports on the fly
  • Create presentation-ready graphics and data analysis
  • Potential scenario planning with easy project re-integration
  • Early problem identification
  • Automatic work/task prioritization

What does Bergman look for? "Flexibility. Your business is constantly changing and evolving, and your tools must be able to evolve with you. Prioritize tools that allow you to define your own metrics and timelines. Project leaders or others responsible for delivering against KPI's will benefit from knowing the overall health of their organization." He says, "this includes the portfolio of projects, the number of projects currently open and insight into which team members (individually and by department) are maxed out or has room to take on another task."

With many companies today striving to find better ways to improve project accuracy, team performance, and productivity, BI and BA tools offer ways for companies and project teams to reach higher levels of goal attainment, making it possible for leaders to optimize decision-making. In turn, this assists companies in increasing the chances of reaching their desired strategic goals.

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About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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