Agile BI: A user-driven enterprise BI strategy
By JY Pook July 8, 2015
- Enterprises not embracing change brought about by today’s technologies
- Agile BI tools put the power of analytics into the hands of employees
THE customer is king these days. More accurately, the digitally-empowered customer is king.
Customers, both businesses and consumers, are armed with almost unlimited access to information – information on products and services; about prices, deals and promotions.
With the proliferation of mobile devices and easy access to the Internet, customers are now well informed, and they can use peer pressure to drive change.
Nevertheless, enterprises are not readily embracing this change. According to Forrester, there has been an over 70% turnover for the Global Fortune 500 companies over the past 10 years.
One of the most common threads running through the profile of most of the companies that disappeared in that time period is that they did not succeed in managing change.
To take advantage of what Forrester calls the ‘age of the customer,’ businesses and organisations need to focus on prioritising business agility.
Organisations can adopt a user-driven enterprise business intelligence (BI) strategy, where decision-makers are empowered to be more flexible and responsive to the fast pace of change in business requirements, and thus reap benefits from it.
1) Business agility
Agile businesses must gather customer and market knowledge and rapidly incorporate it into decision making. A good way to do this is to adopt a tool that is fast and easy to use – in other words, to practice agile BI.
Companies that adopt agile BI are better prepared to adapt to the fast changing demands of today’s business environment.
Agile business intelligence calls for BI tools that are easy to learn and simple to use. Easy to use BI tools encourage adoption amongst employees and empower them with the capabilities to analyst complex and/ or large amount of data.
These employees are often the ones who are in touch with customer problems, market changes, and inefficiencies in operational processes. They are also in the best position to understand challenges and opportunities, and to make decisions to improve the business.
So, empowering them with the capability to make data-backed decisions faster means allowing the organisations that they belong to be more business-oriented, competitive and successful.
2) Agile BI platforms
Agile BI platform should allow for customisation and enable users to make provisions for their own data sets.
This means BI platforms that can perform data mashups and integration, and the ability to access data from different sources.
Additionally, agile BI platforms should also offer automated processes such as auto-refreshing of data when new data is available. This way, users are always working with the latest and most accurate set of data.
The key is to empower users with the capability to explore data – gather customer and market knowledge and rapidly incorporate it into decision making.
3) Business-driven vs technology driven
Another important factor of implementing agile BI is that it needs to be user-driven. It is not effective to have the latest and greatest technology-driven, enterprise BI solution if it requires a long period of time of implementation, testing and user training.
Business environments are changing so fast these days that user requirements may have changed by the time a sophisticated enterprise BI solution is properly deployed and ready to run.
Traditional enterprise BI tools have top-down data governance, centralised BI support and standardised infrastructure. They have good robustness and scalability, and drive users towards a single version of truth.
However, the business outlook of today calls for agility and flexibility, and enterprise BI environments that are too complex and inflexible and slow to react are largely ineffective in the age of the customer.
Many users are in fact turning to homegrown BI tools to get the job done. When enterprise technology cannot deliver what they need, business users build their own applications.
It is real agility when business users build their own business-driven shadow BI applications because they want to get to information that they need and complex enterprise IT solutions cannot give them an answer in time.
This kind of self-service BI can nevertheless bring a new set of challenges as these homegrown applications and environments usually do not scale. They also contribute to the proliferation of silos, and pose higher operational risks.
4) Follow the cloud
Many business organisations have turned to cloud computing for both mundane and business-critical applications.
Naturally so too, as cloud offers today’s enterprises with a cost efficient and easy way to scale their business needs, minimising or completely removing the need for hardware investment and subsequent procurement and maintenance.
Likewise, today’s agile BI platforms come with desktop or cloud-based sandbox capabilities where users can tap on to build prototypes or data models. Users are not hindered by long cycles, and they do not need to rely on data administrators when building data models on these in-memory platforms.
Most cloud-based BI solutions can be deployed quickly with little support from IT. They also readily support anytime, anywhere access to the latest analysis and information, especially useful to mobile business users when they are on the road or at the customer’s office.
Power in the hands of users
The traditional approach to enterprise BI has brought about benefits like centralisation, rationalisation and scalability for many business organisations.
However, lacking business agility, enterprise BI only scratches the surface of BI’s potential and possibilities.
Agile BI tools, on the other hand, put the power of analytics into the hands of employees, empowering them to make astute, data-backed decisions quickly. They allow businesses and organisations to leave the creation of BI content to people who have the intimate knowledge of customers, regulations, and other business requirements.
Simply put, agile BI brings the best of both worlds by providing business users with the flexible capabilities of traditional spreadsheets, while residing on a scalable, robust, and secure large enterprise-grade BI platform.
JY Pook is Asia Pacific vice president at Tableau Software.
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