Business Intelligence Strategy – Put the Horse Before the Cart
December 27, 2023
5 minute read – After receiving great feedback on this topic, we have decided to remind leaders how important it is to establish clear objectives for business intelligence (BI) and data analytics initiatives. There are almost as many strategic initiatives focused on business intelligence (BI) and data analytics as there are financial institutions. The potential breadth and depth of BI is so large that creating clear objectives for BI initiatives is essential. Yet, perhaps because it is so unwieldy, some organizations have bypassed getting clarity on the BI strategy and jumped into the “how” by focusing first on tools, data sources, and teams.
Putting strategy first in no way minimizes the critical nature of the tools, data sources, teams, etc. It is because it is such a heavy lift, and there are so many options, that the strategic reasons for taking on a BI initiative should be clear up front. Without articulating what the organization hopes to accomplish and by when, the initiative runs the risk of being driven by inappropriate influences such as which tools are coolest, or which department has the most sway. This top-down approach ensures that the organizational efforts align with strategy.
Start by asking what strategic outcomes are big and impactful enough to justify moving in this direction. Think through what is driving the desire for better BI. It must be grounded in the high-level strategy.
For example, consider two different organizations with two different strategies:
The very reason it’s so important to state the BI strategy is because most organizations want what both of the example organizations are great at, plus more. And that may be possible, eventually, as BI often progresses in phases. But prioritizing the key strategic outcomes at the outset provides guidance and a filter when necessary trade-offs must be made as the “how” gets underway.
One helpful exercise is to ask each leader or area to identify the 3 most impactful business opportunities to seize or problems to solve with better BI and have the leadership team discuss. It’s also appropriate to have conversations around what will be useful beyond the 3, but focus on the most impactful at first.
Cultivating the BI culture and mindset. First and foremost, don’t be handcuffed by the past. Most have lived in a static data world where reports are pre-defined and it’s extremely difficult and unreliable at worst, or time-consuming at best, to get the desired BI. Recognize that shifting away from the static data mindset amounts to asking leaders to think differently. Begin by asking, What would you want to know in order to transform your part of the business? Initially, don’t limit the thinking based on what you can get. Just practice asking questions that push you to think about your business differently, like What do people who click on our prequalified credit card offers have in common? or What else can we see is happening before someone misses a loan payment? To become an organization that takes optimal advantage of BI to run the business better and move the strategy forward, leaders first need to practice thinking outside of what they are used to getting.
Who will own and drive this important initiative? It needs a dedicated owner, and that owner must recognize the pan-organizational nature of BI. It often lands with IT because of the technology tools required, but business intelligence is everybody’s business. Whether it’s IT, Marketing, or another area driving it, the entire leadership team must be engaged. Relegating BI to a silo is not a recipe for success.
Don’t forget to circle back. Teams must consistently evaluate whether the BI strategy is yielding the desired “greatness” and success of the high-level strategy. Regularly reassess and tweak as necessary. If Organization #1 believes it has successfully fulfilled its BI strategy, they should ask themselves whether they are actually credit analysis, pricing, and collections ninjas, effectively helping people with dented credit get the money they need in a financially healthy way. If the answer is no, it may be that the culture and mindset shift to fully utilize BI has not happened yet. It will take leadership demonstrating time and time again how BI can and should be used before a successful shift can be made.
The success of any BI strategy requires a dizzying number of decisions and a complex array of technologies, data, people, and behaviors. Start by defining the most impactful business opportunities and problems to address and articulate the strategic reasons that are driving your desire for better BI. Clearly identifying the BI strategy sets the stage for success and guides the multitudes of decisions and activities to follow.