Like Batman and Robin, business intelligence and process are a dynamic duo when paired together.
The infusion of facts and findings into day-to-day operations can help an organization become more efficient. Yet, many enterprises shy away from it when defining their business processes, as the concept of business intelligence (BI) can seem intimidating or overwhelming.
At its core, BI simply means taking advantage of available information in order to work smarter. Organizations leveraging technology to capture and digest BI can improve operational performance overall, which ultimately creates competitive advantage. With this in mind, it’s time to stop procrastinating and begin letting BI work for your business processes. Below are some thoughts on the importance of BI, and a few tips to help you combine that understanding with action.
Where to Start?
When talking process, it’s in our nature to prioritize so we can tackle whatever we think offers the best opportunity for improvement first. But, pinpointing specific processes that might see the best results from BI can be tough. Do any particular business processes benefit more than others when BI is incorporated? Everyone’s processes are unique to some extent, so it’s possible certain candidates may stand out. But, in reality, nearly any business process should profit from the added insight that BI brings.
Take product lifecycle management (PLM) for example. Product managers and product engineers can introduce BI into their reporting processes to get a better grasp on overall performance. This can include historical data analysis of all the steps of a product’s lifecycle, from concept and design to manufacturing and delivery. Collecting information about how and when those steps are completed over time can uncover trends more easily and, ultimately, allow processes to be refined as needed. The end result is better demand forecasting, improved product quality, faster speed to market, and cost savings for the organization.
Change can be scary to some people. But, in the long run, any technology that increases process transparency and provides insight to help people work smarter will be an asset to your organization. BI and the tools that drive it are necessary to facilitate continuous process improvement and keep up with the pace of innovation. So, in theory, you could essentially start by incorporating BI into any process. You may choose to pick a low-complexity process initially to prove out the concept, as it will likely be easier to identify the relevant data to be gathered and analyzed, and presumably fewer steps in the process that may need to be refined over time. But, there’s really no wrong answer here.
IT Can Drive the Adoption of BI and Partner with Other Departments for Success
Knowing that BI should become a fundamental part of all your business processes, the next challenge is to find someone to make that transformation happen. Who within your organization is best suited to lead the charge on implementation? This is where IT has an opportunity to step up and shine.
IT’s experience managing technology and data, paired with its analytic inclination, makes the department a natural fit to take the lead on enterprise-wide BI adoption. Of course, there is a fine line between leading the charge and completely taking over, so IT should try to foster a partnership posture with the business where possible. Ideally, IT should work with business unit leaders to begin applying BI to processes. Clearly, no one enjoys having their weaknesses pointed out, so IT should try to focus on the potential benefits while working with other departments. Rather than dwelling on the inefficiencies that BI may reveal, emphasize the positive by demonstrating how powerful access to true intelligence can be. For example, “Look at what we’ve improved. We’ve reduced total time to delivery from X-days to Y-days, resulting in a productivity gain of Z%!”
We’ve recently worked with the IT department of a large insurance company on an initiative to enhance their hardware purchasing process. One of the key goals was to provide greater visibility into the process details and real-time status tracking. In the past, end users had to call a Help Desk support team member to determine the status of their orders. Now, they can see the status themselves.
While this might seem like a small adjustment, it resulted in big productivity gains for both the end user and the support team. Now, there is less of a burden on the support team, which frees them up for other, higher-value activities. Moreover, end users have an efficient way to get clarity on order statuses. Having this proof point has helped the company’s IT team build a case for incorporating BI elsewhere in the organization.
How do Descriptive and Predictive Analytics Help?
Analytics are a critical component of BI that enable more strategic decisions about processes, and further drive home improvement proof points. Most IT teams will start with descriptive analysis – collecting current-state information on their processes and analyzing the data. From there, IT should be positioned to progress to a more predictive model – projecting the probable results of future process adjustments. And, with the right technology in place, you can eventually work towards a more prescriptive model, where BI analytics can help identify those process changes that will have the greatest positive impact moving forward.
When it comes to making process changes, it’s important to approach them with an inquisitive mindset. IT should not be afraid to ask “why” when assessing processes and considering possible changes. When something is targeted for change, business unit leaders and IT should both look to predictive analytics to envision the resulting outcome of that change. From there, they can rely on data for clarity and use technology to test their hypotheses, in order to validate the proposed change.
Many of today’s business process management (BPM) platforms come equipped with robust workflow capabilities that can handle multiple potential process paths for testing purposes. In most cases, these solutions can dynamically determine the appropriate route based on the existing data and applicable “if/then” logic. They essentially elevate analytics out of academia and into reality. Using these types of solutions, IT can monitor and assess how process changes are performing and make adjustments as needed.
BI and Processes are Better Together
As you can see, the relationship between BI and business processes is symbiotic. BI uses data to shed light on performance, while processes provide a vehicle for the unearthed information to become actionable. This dynamic duo is essential to IT as they lead the charge in creating positive change across the organization.