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5 Ways to Make Your BI Program More Efficient and Maximize ROI

We present five important ways to make a BI program more efficient and uncover the greatest opportunities to maximize ROI.

By Myron Weber, Founder and Managing Partner, Northwood Advisors

Strategically constructed business intelligence (BI) systems can help your organization accomplish important business goals such as increased efficiency, strengthened teams, and greater ROI. Unfortunately, many executives rush to assemble a BI initiative without considering the components required to make it successful or the standards by which to judge that success.

Here are the five things you can do to ensure that your BI program is efficient and maximizes your return on investment.

1. Align Your Business Strategy with Your BI Program

Running fast in the wrong direction is counterproductive, and it's what happens when an organization rushes to implement BI without first formulating a clearly articulated strategy that aligns BI activities with enterprise objectives. What are your organization's top goals in building your BI system? It's important to know the answer before embarking on a project. Achieving greater ROI requires your company to first guide your team in the right direction. Empower staff by providing them with the tools and information they need, and then hold them accountable by establishing metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs).

2. Create a Road Map

Process is a function of priorities. Put the most important objectives at the top of the list to keep your team focused on the highest ROI and efficiency items. Establishing a detailed road map allows management to see what's happening in the initial phase as well as what's coming around the corner in subsequent phases. This careful planning allows executives to make thoughtful and specific design and architecture decisions upfront and avoid painting your organization into a corner that requires dramatic amounts of reworking in later project phases. Always begin with the end in mind and work backwards to craft a system that will deliver the desired results.

3. Establish BI Ownership and Governance

Aligning your organization to deliver sustained ROI through BI starts with executive ownership. Your executive sponsors must align BI objectives with organizational strategy, champion the required investment, and ultimately take ownership of the success or failure of BI initiatives. Executives must, in turn, create accountability and responsibility for the team that owns day-to-day BI development and operations. Your organization must foster an active, cross-functional community of champions and users who derive tangible benefits from BI.

Within the structure of organizational governance, data governance is a systematic set of policies, management processes, and practices with assigned ownership and accountability to ensure the security, reliability, and usability of business information. The reliability of the information is supremely important because your organization must have confidence that the data it relies on is correct, complete, and compliant with business rules. Usability is also crucial because BI users must be able to access the data.

4. Empower Users within Clear Guidelines

Every time someone writes a report, analyzes data, or takes any action using company time and resources for BI, that person is making an investment decision on behalf of the company. Who is approving that investment? The answer is that in top-performing BI organizations, an appropriate governance structure offers guidance about how employees spend their time and access resources. This doesn't require top-down authorization for every action; it means that clear governance should communicate to employees what they are empowered to do so they know when something should be escalated up the governance chain for authorization. Clear communication, well-defined roles, and documented BI practices are the keys to institutionalizing empowerment.

5. Augment a Broad Enterprise BI Platform with Niche Tools

Your organization can realize tremendous economies of scale by rolling out a broad platform, but the general tools simply won't meet all your organization's needs. The best you can do with enterprise BI is to meet most of the needs of most of the people most of the time. The gaps are bridgeable with niche tools, particularly in financial, operational, and marketing analyses. High-value analysts within your enterprise may spend 60 to 90 percent of their time trying to gather data instead of performing their analysis. Best-of-breed niche tools enable analysts to focus on driving value, offering a tremendous ROI for a relatively low cost and accomplishing what broad enterprise platforms can't.


Rushing to implement a BI system to gather and process important enterprise data can ultimately undermine your project's results and lead to an inefficient system that can't achieve your top objectives. A strategic approach is necessary, and that approach must comprise careful consideration of strategy, road map, governance, alignment with organizational objectives, and a combination of a broad-platform enterprise BI system with the appropriate niche tools to cover all the bases. Careful inclusion of these five components can help your organization run a more efficient BI program with stronger teams and, most important, increased ROI.

Myron Weber is founder and managing partner of Northwood Advisors, a business intelligence and decision systems advisory firm. He draws from more than 20 years of diverse business experience, systems thinking, unique insights, and creative approaches to solving problems when he consults and trains business teams in the development and implementation of BI strategies and decision systems. He produces the "Real Time Decisions Webcast" blog and podcast, and was recognized as an IBM Champion for Business Analytics in 2011 and 2012, reflecting his contribution to advancing BI practices and outcomes for business success. You can contact the author at [email protected].

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