Published: 28 November 2013
It is slightly unnerving when organizations boast about Business Intelligence and when asked about underlying tools, you hear the words Excel and PowerPoint only and no underlying database or data environment, whether structured or unstructured.
We really do love Excel and PowerPoint, but for what purpose?
We are by no means bashing Excel and PowerPoint, they are pretty awesome products and we use them daily! We use Excel in our homes and at work to store, organise and manipulate data. We create pivot tables, sort and filter data and import data as needed. It is an excellent way to display graphs and tables and is a powerful tool that anyone can use but it is not a database. PowerPoint is the leading slide show presentation tool and has the Microsoft trademark of being user friendly and intuitive. These tools are therefore necessary components in any Business Intelligence (BI) environment and their merit cannot be discounted. However, when thinking long term and where the focus is business data continuity, there must be a more robust and scalable solution that focuses on data governance and management.
Do you have a data warehouse?
The most common rationale is that data warehousing is expensive and there is no return on investment (ROI). I will agree that data warehousing is not for the faint of heart because it does require some skill, expertise, business sponsorship, time and space. However, it is certainly not rocket science and while complexities exist, with a proper BI roadmap and focus on 80/20 (Planning 80%; Building 20%), it is indeed achievable.
Are we suggesting you pay ‘big bucks’ for Commercial BI tools?
Of course not! There are plenty of open-source BI tools that can match some of the biggest Commercial software on the market, some for a fraction of the cost. Tools such as Pentaho and Jaspersoft are commercial open source products, while RapidMiner is an example of a free open source product that supports data mining and analytics.
So how do you move towards an 'economical' BI Solution?
We cannot knock you down and not help you back up, we are not that cruel. Business Intelligence is not an overnight solution nor is it a project. Business Intelligence is a valid business unit, just like Finance, Marketing or Sales. It may not have the centuries of established theories, best practices and case studies as it is merely a few decades old but it has a track record of sustainability, success, depth and growth.
Before you undertake a BI project, you have to firstly ask yourself the hard questions to determine where you want to go, how you want to reach there and when? These questions will help to form your BI Roadmap which must be documented. You will have to take an audit of your business processes and clearly define key terminologies and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) important to your business. Remember the 80/20 rule; this will be crucial during this stage as it is easier to scratch from a notepad than it is to wipe a database structure that does not work or is irrelevant.
Next you will have to look at your data requirements and create a high level data model which will be the driver for your ETL (extract, transform, and load) process to load tables in your data warehouse. You will then extract this data and present information to users and mangers (now you may use Excel and PowerPoint) to aid in decision making. Of course, this is a more involved process and we have merely condensed what could be a 500 page text book into 3 paragraphs but it is important to understand from a high level what is required and to appreciate that while it is an involved process, it is achievable.
If you are considering a BI Solution, we highly recommend connecting with one of our BI Gurus and/or go to our contact us page and send us a quick note. We would love to hear from you.
About the author: Raquel Seville [@quelzseville] is a Business Intelligence Professional, BI Evangelist, Founder: exportBI | Co-Founder: eatoutjamaica. To find out more, please visit her about me page.