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By Nicholas Bell, Chief Executive Officer, Decision Inc.

Executive Summary

The current business climate is one of complexity and competitiveness, and globally executives are under pressure from stakeholders to constantly make better decisions. Making the right decision first time has therefore never been more critical. In order for this to happen, managers need the correct information that will allow them to make the right decisions. This often means they need to engage with their IT teams in order to gain insights into how to effectively execute a decision enablement project.

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Implementing a Business Intelligence Project

IT teams are required to evaluate and suggest technology platforms that they believe will best fit the user’s purpose. IT departments may have agreed to follow a particular vendor’s roadmap or have people with strong feelings towards different technologies.

IT teams often consider research papers such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant report to decide on the correct technology, often using this single image as a guide for deciding on technology. Whilst this can give the user an understanding of where the researchers feel the technology to be in its development lifecycle, it provides no capability to understand the needs and requirements of each individual business.

The conventional view of building and deploying technology on time, to plan and within budget are generally considered the key measurements and criteria for success in the implementation of projects. This is valid often in various projects where process and rigor need to be applied in order to enable execution, but these are not core drivers of an analytics project and therefore shouldn’t be the core drivers of the success of the project.

Traditional project management also dictates that risk and risk management is key to the success of the project; however, an intense focus on mitigating risk alone can often be done at the expense of business users and their analytics requirements. Complex and important areas of the reporting subjects are often downgraded or de-scoped in order to ensure the project plan is managed effectively.

We believe there is another way to implement the project that allows for users to continually exploit their data in new ways. Rather than deploying technology to users, the focus should be on the exploration of information. By putting the users and their requirements at the heart of the project, on average, the project is far more likely to succeed and make a positive impact on the business.

Defining Goals for Execution

Gartner’s research tells us that, on average, 70%-80% of BI projects fail, and of these 40% – 60% are late or never finish – a technical failure. The rest are completed, but fail because they are not adopted in a way that justifies the cost – a business failure.

In order to measure the success of an implementation, companies should ensure that a key measure is when the tangible, measurable benefits outweigh the total cost of the technology. Therefore measurement should be more than just on time, to specification and to budget, but rather:

•    Is the cost of providing insights to the business less than before?
•    Is information more accurate now that user intervention is removed?
•    Is information available quicker than it was before, thereby supporting improved decision making?
•    Are reports more relevant as they focus on the heart of the problem that the user is having?
•    Are insights available in an easier format, thereby growing user adoption?
•    Are people making different decisions as they are focusing on the right issues?

As stated before, in order to drive real value from the implementation of decision support systems, understanding the users and how they interact with their information becomes critical. Knowing the decision rights and responsibilities of the users is important, as without it, the implementation becomes even more difficult to complete successfully.

Understanding the User

It is important that the people tasked with delivering the system understand how the users perceive their problems, use information and analyse data. The analysis and understanding of this is often passed off to IT users or system analysts that do not have a sense of the work load, work requirements and technical capability of the users. The outcomes of the system are therefore often misaligned to the user’s requirements and not utilised as effectively as they could have been.

The process of identifying and understanding the requirements of the user, their decision rights and computer literacy levels can only really be understood by analysts spending time in the business with the user. Performing depot and plant walk-abouts, sitting in sales team meetings or understanding how a branch manager co-ordinates his day are examples of necessary exercises that should happen for user requirements to be truly understood. With the best intentions, IT will often embark on understanding these areas; however guidance and insights from the business users should form the basis of how the requirements are defined.

Understanding the Requirement

Prototyping and getting people together to question the relevance and the insight in the information can prove to be pivotal to the project. A better understanding of the culture of the business and the team therefore become equally as important and everyone in the team needs to understand the way in which the users interact with their information. Only once that is understood will the project have the potential to add value.

Projects that really succeed do so when they challenge and improve the way in which information is used. The type of questions asked by users need to change to second order questions. Rather than asking “what product should I stock on shelf?, users should rather be asking “how do I optimize my supply chain to ensure I have sufficient stock to service my customer’s requirements and ensure sales?”.

Questions like these change the way that the user interacts and understands their data. Their thought process changes from just pulling sales reports that show where sales are up and down to rather understanding the impact of product availability in trade and the need to deliver world-class customer service.
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Fig 2: Example Procurement Framework emphasizing different objectives based on the users role in the organization

A decision audit could be embarked on where the decision rights and capabilities of the user are compared to the type of information they are provided with in order to execute their job. A gap analysis provides the analyst team with greater insights to the current position of the user and enables them to understand what they need to do in order to make the user truly effective.

Reviewing Technology Options

Once the users’ requirements, decision rights and literacy levels are established, the team then has sufficient information to formulate a requirement that needs to be executed. From that point onwards the decision of technology should become important as the project team now understand the users’ context and engagement approach with their information.

Choosing the correct technology to service the client can cause IT teams to prevaricate due to the number of options in the market. Technology vendors work aggressively to promote their product and often use research such as the Magic Quadrant to drive clients to select one technology over the other.

As stated earlier, these research papers should be used as guides to provide clients with an understanding of the product’s lifecycle and how other clients have interpreted their experience with the technology.

Making the Technology Decision

Arguably, most of the technologies could get the user to the same point of view, by leveraging the strengths of what they do differently. In deciding which one to choose, clients need to understand what it is about one technology that they value over another. Each technology has its strengths and weaknesses and once you understand what you value, you are able to align the correct technology to your requirements.

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Fig 3: A wordle (word cloud) of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics. Courtesy of https://wordle.net

Each technology values a different area in order to define its unique space within the market. New subcategories such as Data Discovery have been created as well to delve into more detail on the analytical tools. Some technologies promote enterprise scalability, others promote self-service BI, and others promote report generation.

Some clients believe in the vision and road map of the core technology provider within their business and value that higher than functionality.

Conclusion

A core attribute, in our research of companies that excel and make significant gains from the implementation of these technology projects, is a company that values information, and executives that use information to drive performance. They understand the value of the insights they are provided and they have supportive IT departments that help them to achieve their goals. These core differentiators can account for more than half of the success of the project as the company sees the information provided from business intelligence as a competitive advantage in their business.

Certain companies have the ability to make these decisions and complete this analysis themselves internally; others look for partners that have the capability to provide them with an honest product review that is impartial to a particular vendor. However you choose to assess your business needs, a key requirement when making your project decisions should be to enable your people to make better decisions, faster.

About Decision Inc.

Decision Inc. is a leader in enabling its clients to make better decisions, faster. The Company’s foundation is built in technology; however what makes us unique is our understanding of effective decision making.

We represent leading global technology brands SAP BusinessObjects, Qlikview, Microsoft, Roambi and MicroStrategy and are experts in the implementation, support and execution of these technologies.

Our clients trust us to provide them with an enhanced capability to make informed decisions. We leverage the strengths of these relationships to provide them with solutions that deliver value to their business. Our consultants have in-depth industry knowledge and technical expertise to assist organisations with their definition, implementation and support of decision making processes.

The four key pillars of Decision Inc. dedicate experienced consulting resources to deliver decision advisory and strategy capabilities; data engineering; insight generation & presentation; and solution enablement and support.

For further information please visit www.decisioninc.co.za

About Nick Bell

Nicholas is the CEO of Decision Inc., where he is responsible for driving the strategic and operational vision of the company. His focus is on building an organisation that clients will trust to provide them with an enhanced capability to make informed decisions

Nick holds a  B.Comm. Honours degree from the University of Johannesburg. He was one step away from becoming a Chartered Accountant, when the opportunity of building and running SAB’s Merchandising System arose. This opportunity appealed to his entrepreneurial spirit and enabled him to establish his own business, BusinessIntelligent.

Nicholas quickly realised the potential represented by a new BI technology and became a reseller and implementation partner of QlikView South Africa. Nick leveraged this opportunity by using his understanding of technology and business to support clients in developing and deploying leading business intelligence solutions.

Nicholas built BusinessIntelligent into the largest Qlikview partner in South Africa, servicing a variety of the country’s blue chip companies and their operations in other African countries. BusinessIntelligent’s success has been recognised by Qlikview with awards for Exceptional Achievement in South Africa and for Excellence and Achievement at the 2012 Global Partners Awards event in Miami. BusinessIntelligent also achieved the Partner Excellence Award for 2013.

Realising there exists a real need in the market for an organisation that supports the decision making process through matching business analysis with technical skills, Nicholas has been instrumental in merging together BusinessIntelligent, ASYST Intelligence and the Microsoft division of DigiQuill, a Cyest Company. With Decision Inc. he will continue to build on his success by driving consistent growth. The company culture is designed to support highly motivated people to excel and achieve.

An entrepreneur since the age of 9, Nicholas is passionate about business and making Decision Inc. the leading decision support organisation in Africa.