Tech pros can help deliver BI back to the business

Peter McParland, Perception Consulting

14 September 2016

One of the biggest challenges facing business owners is to transform the data they have built up over time into actionable information that helps them to make better decisions. Traditional reporting tools historically fell under the remit of the IT department, as custodians of their organisation’s systems and data.


But as IT teams have endured shrinking resources and stretched workloads, it is not surprising that the prospect of yet another project to drive value and insight out of their data fills them with suspicion, if not outright dread.

But here’s the good news: self-service business intelligence and visualisation technology have disrupted that old model. Very short lead times and fast return on investment are the order of the day. Best of all, these projects are developed in a collaborative way that puts more effort onto business managers and eases the burden on IT.

The focus of these projects has also changed. Many companies invested in reporting that produced weekly or monthly outputs, but in today’s world, it is often too late to make decisions on that. Instead, analytics spot emerging trends, or identify risk. Analytics by definition are forward-looking and they are about sifting through historical trends to help predict possible future outcomes.

“Self-service business intelligence and visualisation technology have disrupted that old model. Very short lead times and fast return on investment are the order of the day”

These tools don’t need an enterprise deployment from day one. I would argue that a better approach is to pick a pain point in the business, and for a relatively small investment, build out the use case. This way is often referred to as ‘land and expand’, because other departments typically see the results, realise the effectiveness, and start asking for the same capability.

In HR, for example, it’s possible to detect employee turnover. There are a number of recordable actions for individuals and, when added up, they could flag a potential risk for churn. This involves analysing factors like someone’s performance at last review, absenteeism, or whether they have been passed over for promotion. That’s valuable insight given the increasing costs of recruiting staff.

Similarly, customer ordering and payment patterns, or the product mix they choose, can reveal previously hidden insight that can drive sales efforts. Businesses can quickly see if a long-standing customer is at risk of going to a competitor – or if their payment terms pose a threat from a cash flow perspective.

Working with our customers, we have been able to rapidly automate the process of taking data from ERP systems and turning it into easy-to-read visual displays almost in real time, so there’s no need to wait until month end. By taking an agile approach to developing BI solutions, we define the project’s scope, identify the effort involved and then complete the work in a sprint that usually lasts between five and ten days. In small departments, deployments of less than a week are achievable.

And all of this without placing further strain on beleaguered IT departments. In fact, I believe there’s a strong case to be made that IT professionals can be the champions of new BI tools in their organisations. Their background and expertise lets them make a compelling argument to senior decision makers about implementing the technology and the impact it will make to the bottom line or to the organisation’s competitive position. It also subtly lets management know that IT understands the challenges in the business – and that’s always a good place for IT professionals to be.


Peter McParland, CEO, Perception Consulting

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