Five Ways to Get Your Employees Better Information More Quickly

As data overload continues, more companies are turning to operational business intelligence. But there's more to it than a flashy dashboard.

Managing the avalanches of data generated in the enterprise can seem like an insurmountable task. And in the effort to transform that data into actionable information, many companies are turning to operational business intelligence. Operational business intelligence refers to applications that are used, usually in conjunction with a dashboard, to provide daily, hourly, minute-to-minute, or even up-to-the-second actionable information to a wide array of employees.

Companies that use operational business intelligence well have much in common. In contrast to their less-successful counterparts, best-in-class companies have used operational business intelligence to get information faster, make decisions more quickly, improve customer satisfaction and retention, and boost the number of end users who have access to data and BI tools. So says a survey by Aberdeen Group of 250 enterprises involved with a diverse set of operational business intelligence activities and projects.

How have they made those improvements? By managing processes around data, providing communications and training to promote user buy-in and using the appropriate operational BI technology to achieve their strategic goals. For example, 58 percent of best-in-class companies have automated data collection and integration, according to the Aberdeen study. On the other hand, just 48 percent of average companies and 41 percent of laggard companies have done so. And whereas 58 percent of leaders establish regular communications around BI initiatives and processes, only 39 percent of average companies and 36 percent of laggard companies do so.

But companies that want to provide data to more users and shorten the time to decision can improve their efforts. Here are five things IT and businesspeople can do together to improve data delivery.

Explore Process Automation Opportunities

Ask yourself: Which job functions or tasks within the company would benefit from automatic data collection and reporting? Look for both simple tasks and more complicated initiatives that could be executed better and faster if information were delivered more quickly. For example, one courier company turned to operational BI after realizing that weekly customer activity reports weren't a comprehensive solution. Poring through reports on 2,000 clients was a Herculean task, and even when problems were spotted, they could be more than a week old. By that time, the client in question might be using a competitor's services. To see problems and opportunities sooner, the company implemented software that alerts account managers when a customer's behavior changes.

Look for Decisions That Can Be Delivered Automatically

Some kinds of operational BI go beyond the collection and reporting of data to actually executing actions based on it. For example, some financial service organizations use applications that automatically analyze fluctuations in currency rates and that automatically initiate trades based on those decisions. In many manufacturing organizations, data analysis is done automatically on the progress of chemical interactions—temperature, viscosity and color of a mixture, for example—and changes to the mixture are automatically made at the back end before it ever reaches the production line.

Identify What Information Employees Need to Succeed

The employees who make or break your company are quite likely those working on the front lines, in the call centers or with customers. Ask yourself: What information do they need to upsell, cross-sell, deal with customer issues, recognize a valued customer or other tasks that cumulatively determine customer loyalty and retention—and your company's successs. Look for ways that information can be delivered to them through easy-to-use dashboards and other BI tools.

Identify What Tasks Feed Enterprise Success

Operational key performance indicators (KPIs) should align with overarching strategic goals. In other words, what employees focus on each day should support the strategic focus of the company as a whole. One recommendation from many experts is to establish a group composed of members from both the business and IT to determine KPIs and other strategic issues. Another group of IT and business folks should be created to manage the day-to-day functioning, training and implementation of the BI tools. Both groups should communicate regularly.

Create Strong Communications

As with any technology implementation, an operational BI implementation will likely have many cultural issues. For example, what is the typical workday of an employee who will be using the tools? How do they like to receive or look at information? How much training will they need, both initially and ongoing, to become adept with the BI tools? What cultural resistance might there be? Ongoing communication is key to creating a culture that values and uses operational BI tools.

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