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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

3 Tips for Introducing BI to Newbies

How "forgotten" verticals can join the BI revolution.

For those of us who work in tech, it's sometimes easy to forget that not everyone in the world is up to speed on the latest and greatest innovations -- including business intelligence. For someone like me, BI is so embedded into what I do every day that I use the phrase all the time. It's only when I meet people who aren't familiar with the concept that I have to take a step back and realize that it's not a part of the universal lexicon -- and it should be.

My company develops apps and software for the real estate industry, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that most of the people I talk with at major residential and commercial property companies aren't familiar with BI. I often have to take a few moments to explain what it is, how it works, and why it needs to be part of every property company's approach to managing the whole gamut of operations, including maintenance, inspections, and repairs.

I know this applies to plenty of other verticals. How can we explain BI to technologists and business leaders in industries where it's not commonly understood? I'll start by looking at something I know well -- the property management industry, which is agonizingly slow to adopt any new technology, much less BI, in part because:

  • All aspects of property management (from commercial to single- or multi-family residential) are operationally heavy. Information and knowledge workers rely on data from low-skilled workers and data transmission is slow because it's overwhelmingly still done on paper.

  • Technological solutions that are a perfect match for the needs of property management -- particularly mobile and the cloud -- haven't been available to incentivize BI adoption in the industry. The generally high costs of BI adoption have also posed a problem in a field focused primarily on short-term goals.

  • The mindset of property management professionals makes change of any sort, no matter how much it may improve industry performance, extra challenging. Add to the mix that structural changes are required and the challenge of BI education reaches epic proportions.

These are the realities we live with every day. The good news is that when I really take the time to explain BI, people just get it. Here are three tips for talking about business intelligence to people who aren't already using it.

Tip #1: Get specific

One reason BI can be hard to fathom is because its value can seem abstract. To get the attention of pretty much anyone in my industry, I need to speak in terms of individual roles and responsibilities. If I speak in terms of how mobile applications can cut in half the data collection time for a particular task, the people who are responsible for that task start to take more interest. If I show how an easy data query can provide insight into renter trends and impact the bottom line, stakeholders begin to pay attention.

Tip #2: Talk about instant access to information

When I think about the pain points in the property management process, they often originate when poor data access collides with time constraints. Many decisions are made based on judgment calls rather than the assessment of facts simply because it is too hard to collect and analyze relevant data in time. When I can explain how easily data can be utilized with BI, and how that data is instantly available for all sorts of decisions, my colleagues take notice.

Tip #3: Explain why intuition isn't the only option

Property management as an industry can take for granted the notion that intuition is the best (or only) means available for making decisions -- sometimes quite expensive ones. When I'm able to illustrate the capabilities of BI with specific examples, I can then demonstrate how relying on intuition versus data-driven decision making is both risky and unnecessary. I try to keep a few examples of data-driven success stories in other industries at the ready to drive the point home.

I always enjoy reading about how analytics and BI practices fuel innovation in surprising ways and in surprising industries. The challenge of introducing BI into property management has taught me that the best way to explain the concept is to start with specific examples of how BI brings value to daily operations, then talk about easy access to data and the power of that data. The ultimate challenge is to help a professional in an intuition-based industry realize that decisions based on facts instead of "what you think is right" are not only more effective, but worth the trouble of changing habits.

About the Author

Jindou Lee is CEO of HappyCo, a San Francisco-based technology company that develops cloud- and mobile-based software for the commercial and residential real estate industries. You can contact the author at [email protected].

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