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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

How to Increase Your BI Program's Value (Part 2 of 2)

Data is your enterprise's most valuable asset. Here are three ways to ensure you get the most from it.

To increase the value of your BI program, you must exploit the value of your data. In the first part of this two-part series, we examined the importance of ensuring your data is trusted, useful, integrated, and governed. In this article, we examine three other properties your data must have: it must be accessible, intuitive, and easily visualized. Through the innovative practices discussed in this series, you can enhance the foundational aspects of your BI program and increase user appreciation of your data.

Making Data Accessible

Balancing data security and accessibility is a challenge every enterprise must address. When your data is not accessible, you can expect competing data marts with duplicate information to pop up. You can leverage BI technology to drive increased accessibility through a self-service model in a few ways:

Provide ready access to the details behind your reports. BI deployments often have both summary and detail reports. You can leverage BI technologies to ensure that all of your summary-based views easily lead to the details behind the summary (aka drill to detail). Providing such details in this way also improves trust and usefulness of your data!

You may also need to improve your report design and BI architecture if users find it difficult to get to the detailed data. Ideally users should be able to simply drill to detail data without having to leave the current report. Be sure that access to detailed views can be executed quickly.

Set up a BI playground or sandbox so users can work with their BI tools to explore new data or data sources. This enables users to experiment with ad hoc reporting. Users must be able to load their own data and should be encouraged to integrate data on the fly. This playground helps ensure they experiment with data without risking changes to production reports or data.

Provide mobile access to your BI data. Mobile applications are often easy to set up and support with modern BI tools. They add a significant value to the user by extending accessibility to information on the fly.

Factor in "time value" of information when designing your data warehouse. When the data users need is only available in the operational systems because your data warehouse has not finished loading , you've created all the justification users need to bypass your BI tool. Understanding the subset of data that needs to be real-time or near real-time can greatly improve the value of your data. For example, a powerful data lake architecture can be leveraged to improve timely access to data.

Secure your data through role-based access to help ensure the right users always have access to the right data. Going beyond report-level access or broad roles when you are working with sensitive information can increase opportunities for access when it makes sense. The goal is to leverage these tools as a way to decrease restrictions and enable greater access.

Make your data more accessible through high-performance design. For example, if queries are taking a long time to process, users may find alternatives to accessing that information. You want your data access to be fast and to leverage the power of modern platforms and enable discovery capabilities throughout your BI experience. Consider such technologies as Hadoop, in-memory computing, and OLAP technology to improve performance.

Working with Your Data is Intuitive

Applying user experience (UX) design concepts to your BI report design can be extremely valuable by greatly simplifying how users interact with their reports.

Based upon core concepts (such as user-centered design and simplicity), you can gain better understanding of your user as you design your user interfaces. You need to learn why they need the information and how they will use it in their daily functions. You need to understand the different user types or personas that will work with your data. Ultimately, your interface design helps you to be more in tune with your users' needs and their interactive experience with the data, which leads to significantly more effective and efficient data views, data integration, and report layouts that maximize user productivity.

Visualizing Your Data

Advanced visualizations for creative and effective display of your information can significantly bring out the value of the data you have always had, but did not realize you had. Making key insights and patterns from your data more identifiable through visualizations is one of the most powerful things you can do with your data. Visualization leverages formatted views of information for sight to bring out additional perspectives, multi-dimensionality, and context of your information.

Use new widgets and software to produce simulations, executive dashboards, time-motion views, statistical overlays, data mining views, color and graphic context views, and many other visualization types and styles to improve the relevance of your information. Data visualization tools may be the best option for demonstrating the value of your data.


By having an innovative approach with accessible, user-driven, and visualized data, you can bring life and vibrancy to your BI program. When you are on the right path, your users become your biggest fans and end up with a culture of automatic advocacy and a high degree of realized value at all levels of your business for your BI program.

About the Author

Wes Flores has 25 years of experience in the technology and analytics space making an impact as a senior IT executive with Fortune 100 and SMB companies alike. As a strategist and solution architect, Wes brings a business-first mindset to technology solutions and approaches for his clients. His experience spans private and public sectors across many industries such as telecom, healthcare, insurance, finance, hospitality, and higher education. Wes has been honored with numerous industry awards including Top 25 Information Managers from Information Magazine and the BI Perspectives award from Computer World for Business Intelligence Solutions. Most recently his company, of which he is a co-founder, was recognized as a top 10 analytics solutions provider by CIO Applications magazine. Wes shares his expertise gained in advisory and program leadership roles through industry blogs and international speaking engagements. You can contact the author via email.

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