Learn about business intelligence (BI) strategies, including how to develop your own, best practices, and why you need one. Download free templates that can help you create a successful BI strategy.
In this article:
- Why you need a business intelligence strategy
- Steps to create a BI strategy
- How to document a BI strategy
- BI strategy roadmap template
What Is a Business Intelligence Strategy?
Before diving into the specifics of strategy, it’s important to understand what BI is. Business intelligence is a term used to encompass the technology and strategy that goes into data analysis for your company. The technology can give you a look into past performance, how your company is doing right now and make forecasts for potential future scenarios. So, business intelligence strategy is a blueprint for how you use the data a company generates. This data can come from many disparate sources from around your company, including human resources, supply chain, manufacturing, finance, customer relationship management and more. A successful BI strategy involves people, processes and technology.
- A BI strategy adds value by giving a company a defined program for data collection, data improvement and data tools.
- The BI maturity model will help you assess your current BI strategy.
- A strong BI strategy accounts for high-level concepts and technical details.
Why Do Companies Need a BI Strategy
Business intelligence is a catch-all term that includes the processes of collecting, storing and analyzing data from your business to improve performance. To boost performance, you likely set goals for your company, and have questions for how to achieve those goals. For example, a goal might be to increase your profit margin by 2% in the next fiscal year, and a question might be how to improve efficiency in processes to make your company more profitable. Achieving those goals and answering specific questions is a big part of BI. Business intelligence tools can help by mining the data to uncover trends in large data sets, report this analysis so you can make conclusions about the data and then benchmark future efforts against past performance and even industry standards. In this case, BI tools might help uncover common and costly supply chain disruptions, underperforming business units or other bottlenecks. By making direct queries and visualizing data, you can use customer, operations and performance data to help grow your company and stay competitive. A BI strategy provides insights on where to make improvements in how you manage your data, analysis, reporting and decisions made from the insights.
The Benefits of a BI Strategy
Getting the right software for BI tools is just the first step. Next you need to identify how data generated by your business will be managed and reported on. By including not just the platforms, but also who will use the software, when it should be used and how it can be used, you'll benefit from faster implementation and more varied reports and visualizations in your dashboards. For example, you can boost revenue with sales performance dashboards, or optimize human resources functions with salary and employee performance information. Systematically approaching the discovery, analysis and reporting of data across your business can make the use of BI more efficient.
Other benefits of a business intelligence strategy include:
- Faster reporting and analysis
One of the major benefits of a robust BI is reliable and quick self-service features. When users have questions they'd like answered with the help of business data, they don’t have to turn to an IT team, submit a request and wait for a person to manually mine the data, structure it, analyze it and return it. Instead, you can trust that your team will have access to easy-to-understand insights served up in dashboards and other reports garnered from accurate data. Whether it’s specific research into a topic (e.g., a supply chain manager wanting to understand lead times), or general inquiries into progress toward business goals, creating a BI strategy can benefit all levels of your business.
- Mitigate risks
Let’s say your retail company is considering expanding into a new, larger location. There’s potential for a great return on this investment, with more space to store inventory and offer more products to customers. But the decision to do so comes with significant risk. While no one can predict the future, we can use data to help mitigate that financial risk by forecasting future conditions based off historical trends and other data. Significant business decisions frequently carry some risk. And data can help you make better informed decisions and understand that risk before taking the plunge.
Main Elements of a BI Strategy
The key elements of a successful BI strategy focus on the business, data and people.
Business intelligence strategy elements include:
Vision: The BI strategy vision defines expectations. The vision is what everyone agrees the strategy will include. For example, some BI strategies only have reporting and analytics goals.
People: A BI strategy should have executive sponsorship, a person in leadership who acts as the driver and support. Educate them on the ROI and how the BI strategy makes your company competitive in its industry. Delineate the roles of any other staff involved — for example, decide which data or analysis each department needs.
Process: Document the current state of the strategy, such as current access vs. needs or current data silos vs. needs. Propose the target state and then determine what gaps exist between them. Define the process requirements based on both current and end states. Use this information to develop a strategic roadmap.
Architecture: Define the enterprise architecture, which includes the technical specifications, data requirements, metadata, security requirements, software and data integration and expected results.
Tools: The tools refer to the software and any essential equipment. Selecting tools may need to wait until after determining what BI means in your company and whether it includes technology. Find examples of BI tools and software to see how they are part of a BI strategy.
19 Steps to Create a Business Intelligence Strategy
Follow these 19 steps to create a successful business intelligence strategy to fulfill your business needs. Start with a complete analysis of your current state and move through the stages to develop a goal state.
Assess Your Current BI Ecosystem
Review your company’s data needs at every level. Some companies will have analysts who require powerful tools for modeling, statistics, and data visualization. If you have sales staff, they may need real-time customer data. Consider using the BI maturity model to set a starting point for your BI strategy.
The BI Maturity Model
The BI maturity model shows how evolved the BI is in your company on a five-level scale. The levels go from disorganized to optimized. Use this model to show where your company starts.
The lowest level of the maturity model has data scattered across the organization and no one performs data governance. Accessing data requires one-off requests. The highest level of maturity has organized, accessible data connected to BI software. A chief data officer (CDO) handles data governance and staff can easily find data to make decisions.
Choose a Project Sponsor
An executive sponsor who supports the BI strategy’s goals is critical to ensure company-wide compliance. The executive sponsor’s job is to get support, help communicate goals and overcome any senior leadership resistance. If the project's scope changes, the staff has support to return everyone to the same purpose.
Identify Key Stakeholders
Determine everyone affected by the BI strategy you are developing. These are people who can influence or have an interest in the plan, especially customers.
Employ a Chief Data Officer
A CDO’s primary function is overseeing data management, data quality, and the BI strategy. Once you reach a large scale, you may need a CDO if you want to have a data-driven company.
Build Your BI and BI Governance Team
BI governance is about the infrastructure, not necessarily the data. The team should represent various business functions, so you do not lose sight of the different needs.
Define the Vision and Scope of BI
You know where your company exists with its current BI strategy. Now, figure out where it needs to go. You should align the vision and scope with your organization’s vision. To define the achievable scope, ensure you specify the KPIs that the project addresses. Scope all projects within the lens of the larger initiative. In other words, how does each project lead to the greater goal?
Determine Your BI Objectives
Whether your BI objectives include cutting costs, building new opportunities or cutting out inefficiencies, document the reasons for the improvement.
Build a Data Map
Data maps reveal the supporting data landscape and what it means within a BI strategy. When you integrate data from multiple sources, build a map that shows the schema changes and the resulting data model. Be sure to include the data type.
Choose Your BI Platform and Tools
BI platforms provide users with analysis, reporting and the ability to integrate software systems and datasets. When selecting a new system, consider the technical compatibility in relation to your current plans. Determine the capabilities that you need, such as reporting and custom dashboards.
Prepare Your Data Infrastructure
The data infrastructure consists of three main pieces: the business intelligence architecture, prepared data and a data integration plan. Modern BI enables the user to bring together data from many sources, not just data warehouses. Develop the architecture based on business data sources. Make decisions about how you want this data to come together. This knowledge will help you prepare and integrate the various systems and data sets.
Establish a BI Governance Process
A governance process is how a business manages its information systems. Governance includes leadership, operations and policy. Good governance ensures that BI initiatives are sustainable. Large enterprises should use Business Intelligence Competency Centers (BICC), which are teams that work cross-functionally to remove siloes from different business units. BICCs are responsible for the documentation, planning and cohesiveness of BI projects.
Determine Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
KPIs are critical for letting you know if your BI strategy aligns with company goals.
Develop a Business Intelligence Roadmap
Help stakeholders understand what needs to happen to get to a successful BI strategy with an easy-to-understand visual.
What Is A BI Roadmap?
A BI roadmap is a visual that shows the current state of your BI and the steps to get there. Include the main business issues, solutions, and time to get to the proposed future state. Include milestones along the way.
Define How You Will Share and Distribute Data
Irrespective of how you document and share your data, define the plan. Staff needs to know the standard and where to find instructions, and what they need to make decisions.
Document Your BI Strategy
Document your BI strategy for stakeholders and ensure that there is no "scope-creep." Sticking to the scope keeps the project stays on-task. Staff can refer to the BI strategy documentation to keep the project goals in mind.
Perform User Acceptance Testing (UAT)
UAT is the last step in software development, but the actual first-time users test a system and verify it works. For any system revolving around data, you will want to test that the data from the sources match, the data transformations are appropriate, and the reports are what you need.
The main end-users of a business intelligence strategy are decision-makers and anyone who needs to use business intelligence data to guide their actions. Train end users on the program, process and documentation locations.
Track the ROI of Your BI Strategy
To deliver high ROI, ensure you align the business intelligence strategy with your organizational strategy. Calculate the value in reducing time for data collection, decision-making and analysis. You should also see a reduction in costs and revenue improvements.
Annual Review of BI Strategy
Review your BI maturity model yearly to ensure you are at the expected stage. Look at the quantitative metrics such as the number of data requests fulfilled with the new system and process. Discuss with users the qualitative aspects, such as whether the system has improved their workflows.
How to Document a BI Strategy
The easiest way to document a BI strategy is to develop a full plan with high-level goals and technical specifications. Executive sponsors should sign off on it. The BI strategy document should show how it integrates with the company strategy.
The additional topics a comprehensive business intelligence strategy document should cover are:
- Executive summary: An introduction that describes the high-level need and plan for the company’s BI strategy.
- Alignment with corporate strategy: As a part of the BI analytics, the alignment strategy shows how the BI strategy coincides with its goals.
- Project scope and requirements: Detail the high-level project goals and limits, explaining any additional design requirements.
- BI governance team: As a part of training and standards, create a Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC) team consisting of the people involved in your business intelligence efforts.
- Assessment: Staff and management should use the required end-state as a reference point when assessing the project.
- BI roadmap: Manage stakeholder expectations by providing a roadmap for high-level goals.
- Technology: Outline the BI architecture and applications architecture and include diagrams.
- Data management: Share how you will manage data, including information on data dictionaries, metrics and data governance.
- Change management: Document how you will implement operational and reporting changes.
Why Use BI Strategy Best Practices
Use best practices when developing a successful BI strategy to ensure a holistic approach. Start with the high-level and your staff. Include helpful details, such as standard terminology, in the strategy. Analyze what has and hasn't worked.
Business Intelligence Strategy Best Practices
A solid BI strategy is more than a technology initiative. If you want to succeed in your industry, go into strategy development with your eyes wide open. Here is a list of additional BI strategy best practices:
- Start with a SWOT analysis: SWOT represents Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors, and opportunities and threats refer to external considerations. Use these categories to organize your current BI strategy assessment.
- Include staff in the planning: The team working with the current BI process is a critical link in the chain. Getting their insight and feedback should help drive strategy decisions.
- Consider a TOGAF or Zachman Framework: The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) or the Zachman Framework are methods that give structure to enterprise architecture development. Choose one of the pieces of each to help organize technologies, processes, and information assets.
- Knockdown roadblocks: The first three best practices should reveal the blockages in the company. Limitations come in all forms. Look for technological or process-related fixes to overcome roadblocks.
- Shorten analysis time: Instead of delivering regular lengthy analyses, develop dashboards. Dashboards can shorten the time between data access and business decisions. This strategy also gives the users more control.
- Use feedback loops during implementation: Working well with staff means that you define the issues, fix the problems, and ask for feedback from staff before closing the issue. During phased implementation, feedback loops turn possible improvements into action. The feedback loops are the BI lifecycle that keeps it improving.
- Include a data dictionary: Successful BI strategy documentation ensures consistent use of terminology. Create a data dictionary that defines the backend fields, front-end names and attributes, and metadata about each element.
Business Intelligence Platform and Tools Are Key to a Successful BI Strategy
Develop a successful BI strategy with robust tools and platform. The right software offers the power and flexibility to develop a BI strategy for your company. When looking for a BI solution, verify that it will integrate with your existing systems, can create custom dashboards and reports, and has the support you need.
NetSuite Business Intelligence Provides the Capability of Built-in, Real-Time Business Intelligence
A BI strategy or platform is only as good as the people who implement and monitor it. Business leaders know they need BI tools that will let them access all their data in a way that enables them to make informed data-driven decisions in real-time and maintain a competitive edge. NetSuite offers real-time business intelligence across the entire organization. NetSuite also offers SuiteAnalytics that provides embedded business intelligence to applications and eliminates the need for separate reporting tools, BI cubes or data warehousing.