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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Passive vs. Active Business Intelligence

Transform your BI system from one that informs to one that compels your audience to take action.

In marketing, a call to action (CTA) is an instruction to the audience to provoke an immediate response. An effective call to action, incorporated into marketing assets, can enhance a marketing message, transforming it from passive to active. Marketers target their calls to action to move their audience to an objective that ultimately aligns with their organization's goals. For-profit companies often target their calls to action on activities that will immediately or ultimately drive revenue. Non-profit organizations try to incite their audience to an activity that moves forward the organization's mission.

Business intelligence is often designed to be passive. It informs but does not always compel the audience to take action. The problem with this is that passive Business intelligence doesn't have a clear and sustainable mechanism to keep the user engaged. Often, users will become disillusioned with reports because although they continue to deliver information, the user doesn't see a clear path to the organization's goals. A manifestation of this is when users fail to use dashboards or reports that have been built for them and continue to make decisions on a foundation of intuition or limited information.

If you see these symptoms across your user base, it is time to look at how to transform your passive business intelligence into active business intelligence.

The first step is to understand the organization's target objectives. To accomplish this, investigate what your organization's mission statement is. This will define what success is for the organization. The outcome of the business intelligence needs to have the same objective in its most key assets.

To achieve those common, shared objectives, determine what actions are taken in the organization to accomplish that mission. These are the decisions that are most important areas to incorporate active business intelligence -- the decisions that, if made correctly, would have the biggest impact on the organization. There will be a plethora of decisions that are made daily that will have an ancillary impact on the target objective. These can be important as well, but focus on those that have a direct impact first. Clearly define what the organization's target objective is. If it helps, write it down somewhere visible for the business intelligence team to look at so that they are clear about what they are trying to achieve.

Identify what reports or dashboards most directly deliver the information needed that support those decisions. Once you have narrowed down your list significantly to a small handful of business intelligence assets, start by looking at the visual representations of this information. Look at the asset from a user's perspective and ask yourself if the asset is designed in a way that incites an emotional response. Most people are not emotionally stirred by a table of data or a bar chart. On the other hand, pictures of target objectives turned into a status bar or charts that show the amount left to meet or exceed the target are more compelling. If the decision maker needs multiple pieces of information to make a decision, make sure their eyes are drawn to a couple of data elements that represent the synthesis of that information.

Finally, once you have a compelling visual that delivers the right information in a fashion that emotionally engages, develop a call to action for the visual. State what the user needs to do with the information. If the next step is for them to collaborate, provide a single-click entry into the organization's collaboration tool with an indication of who to contact and about what. If the next step is to move to the next level of information, provide an easy-to-follow link directly to that information. The simpler and clearer the call to action is, the more likely the user will actively engage the business intelligence asset and be driven to an action that will advance the organization's objectives.

One aspect of an effective CTA is the utilization of vibrant colors that draw the eye from the other elements on the page. It is also important to clearly state the call to action. If it is a button, clearly labeling what the user will do as they click the button is important. Make the target activity compelling and urgent so the user is motivated to take the action.

Be aware that many users are analytic by nature and love the quest of identifying information from a set of data. They will find a simple call to action limiting and will want tables and charts of data where they can drill into the information and discover insights. Passive business intelligence continues to allow them to slice and dice and drill down to their hearts' content and is still a core component of the BI program. With key decisions that drive organizational success, guiding the user through the path with a set of clear calls to action has the potential of more closely linking your BI program to the organization's mission.

Passive BI will continue to play a major role across the organization, but experimentation with active BI, through the utilization of effectively placed calls to action, can have a significant impact on organizational effectiveness. When applied to key organizational decisions, a BI program can engage the user base in a whole new and effective manner.

About the Author

Troy Hiltbrand is the chief information officer at Amare Global where he is responsible for its enterprise systems, data architecture, and IT operations. You can reach the author via email.

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