• Bart van Strijen, Partner |
  • Didier Boekraad, Expert |

Delivering a BI solution calls for an approach that combines skills and people, with a structure broken down into tasks and phases. Ultimately, adoption is also pivotal for sharing a success story.

During the last two decades, interest in reporting solutions has been growing exponentially. As IT resources in a company are often limited and allocated to other projects, and because a good reporting also requires a proper understanding of the internal processes, the business function aims to take the lead in report development. That makes it more important than ever to ensure that your reporting solution is a well-established combination of strong architecture, tools, people and methodologies applied in order to deliver the right information to the right person and at the right time. 

Implementing business intelligence (BI) in your organization?

Designing a BI solution is different than picking a BI tool. A BI solution that will have positive impact on your organization requires a project management approach, technical skills and a methodology that involves many different stakeholders. Lack of alignment will result in a solution that won't be used by managers and in bad decision-making due to incorrect or outdated information. So how do we maximize the chances of success? 

Analyze your current needs & the “to-be” product

A first step would be to understand how BI might fit in your organization. A per-function analysis within your company is the normal first step. As the day-to-day users of the data, the business has to define its needs in terms of data so that IT can translate those needs into a technical solution. Requirements should be detailed enough for IT to understand which and what quantity of data need to be brought to BI. For instance, one of the questions users need to ask themselves is how fast do I need the information? Do I need near-real-time data? 

Building your data platform and selecting your visualization tool

After a first round of collecting business requirements, you now have a clear view of at least the source systems to be used for your reporting. Next is the question of which architecture and visualization tool to use: A wide variety of vendors and options exist, and companies should consider which fits best with their current environment. For instance, if an internal assessment reveals that most needs are coming from information stored in Dynamics 365, then you might want to leverage current solutions such as Azure services, which have been designed to perfectly integrate with the full suite of Microsoft products. Design scalable BI architectures, build data warehouses or data lakes, manage data movements and access through the different Azure services, create ready-to-use data models with Synapse Analytics, secure your cloud network behind virtual networks, enhance deployment automation.

Data access and governance

Additionally, you should consider how you want to limit access to data. Since you will be bringing sensitive data from your source systems to your data warehouse, you want to make sure that there is a certain amount of data segregation for separate access policies. For instance, you don’t want people from the front office to access data from the HR system or have an overview of gross margins and the cost of goods. Therefore, you need to ensure that some mechanisms are in place to prevent these situations. 

Define a work breakdown structure and get started

Once the mentioned points above have been defined, it’s time to start with development. Break down your project, report requirements and architecture deployment into tasks with defined responsibilities and people to sign off. Of course, testing should be at the center of the approach: from monitoring and validating the data flow from the sources to your final data warehouse to regularly testing reports after pushing new releases of your data model, all these steps are key to having a reliable product. Testing scenarios, tasks and requirements are documented in a tool such as Azure DevOps, and everything is formalized through documentation that includes detailed requirements, layout design and sign-off from appropriate person responsible. 

Employees need to be trained!

Ultimately, what matters most is the end users’ adoption of the solution. Training employees should be part of the roadmap for BI implementation. Find the right champions in each domain that will become the key users and ensure their knowledge is up to date. As much as the right architecture is essential to the success of your reporting, so are trained employees. The champions will need to identify themselves and the processes they want to improve, build their own reporting with the self-service BI provided to go the extra mile and spread the data-driven culture across the firm, therefore making their training an internal priority.

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