Preparing for BI in the trenches

There’s a freight train set to storm through your enterprise that looks like a blessing but, if not implemented and managed correctly, could end up causing IT managers more heartburn than happiness.

The trend in question is that of business intelligence extending its reach into the hands of your company’s workforce. BI has proven itself to be a valuable tool for executives and decision-makers in their efforts to predict where their businesses are going and to dredge up greater efficiency from the depths of their overall business operations.

The next wave of BI, which is just starting to be felt within enterprises, involves the extension of this functionality into the hands of front-line workers. With the latest iterations of products from a multitude of BI vendors, employees whose jobs involve carrying tasks out rather than setting strategy will be able to tap into the rich data-drilling technology that the higher-ups have been using for some time now.

The chief way in which users will be using BI is in the extraction of information from databases.

And why not? The data that has been culled for trend analysis by executives can be of great use to, say, that guy down in shipping wondering how many boxes of cereal can be expected to come in on the next load.

But with this positive trend comes a certain amount of danger. Extending what are incredibly dense and complex software programs to every corner of a company requires a great deal of planning and proper execution to ensure that they end up being utilized effectively.

First, outfits must ensure that, in the short term at least, as users get hit with yet another new program to use, the interface be kept as simple as possible. As any harried help desk worker will tell you, it should not be assumed that all end users are comfortable with technology. Front ends should look similar to Internet search engines, if possible — a familiar and welcoming screen to even the staunchest Luddite on the payroll.

Another key factor for success is training. Don’t just throw this newfound capability at users and hope for the best. Rather, take the time necessary to at least give them a look at what’s coming and to familiarize them with the product.

And, perhaps most importantly, let them use it. It might be tempting to allow only so much BI capability to be extended to end users in the hopes of better controlling their use of it. But turning off too much access could mean a serious reduction in the ROI you get from this new wave of BI.

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