4 Steps Any Company Must Take to Get the Most from Their Business Intelligence

Data November 3, 2015

There are two problems plaguing businesses right now concerning their data analytics and business intelligence efforts. It’s evident across industries… in the healthcare industry, private companies, even non-profit organizations.

Problem #1:
Organizations aren’t doing any data analysis, instead relying on the well-established Spaghetti Method of Business (let’s throw it at the wall and see if it sticks). Reasons range from not enough time to not enough money to not thinking they really need detailed analysis to stay in business and turn a profit. That last one is called the If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It philosophy of business.

Problem #2:
Organizations are gathering lots of data, have lots of metrics – and have little or no idea what all of it means, nor do they know how to put it together to tell a cohesive story. Heck, they may not even know if they have the right metrics to begin with.

Yet, without proper business intelligence (BI), organizations large and small are doomed to waste unknown quantities of time and money on marketing, sales efforts, product development, and R&D, because they don’t know where they should be putting in the effort to get the best ROI.

With all the technology that exists today to gather data and analyze it, and with all the really good and knowledgeable consultants out there just waiting to help you make sense of your data, there is no excuse for businesses not to know who their audiences are, best ways to reach them, what they’re buying, and calculated ideas about what they’ll need in the future.

Let’s take a look at the 4 steps any organization must take to get the most from their business intelligence. By asking these questions, you’ll be able to come up with a well-mapped plan. We’ll examine a few of the most common pitfalls of each step, too.

Step 1: What kind of data are you collecting, and where is it coming from?

Data can come from so many sources, such as:

  • Advertising (digital, print, radio, etc.)
  • Email
  • Social media (actual social media channels where you’re placing content vs. social media advertising)
  • CRM programs, such as Salesforce and Zoho
  • Web analytics
  • Surveys and data gathering portals

Leaving out even one of these items or giving too much weight to the wrong area can completely throw off your conclusions. But more on that later.

When looking at your potential data sources and weighing how much each contributes to the final picture, ask yourself:

  • Where is the bulk of my audience coming from?
  • Which source can give me the most detailed and most accurate analysis of my audience? (For example, digital advertising usually gives the best tracking, unlike print and TV. Print and TV sources should be able to give you demographic info at least, but it’s not the same. There are also alternate ways to track promotions through promo codes and simply asking people how they heard about you or your promotion.)
  • Are there any people coming in from sources I’m not aware of yet? (That elusive “miscellaneous” category.)

Then, you need to link the data directly to what you do. (You’ll do this in more detail in step 4, as well.) For example, if you’re in the healthcare industry, knowing what people thought of their experience while receiving medical care is crucial to know on an ongoing basis. By monitoring satisfaction rates, your organization can detect issues early and hopefully score higher on government Medicare rating scales, thus boosting reimbursements.

If you’re a non-profit organization, client satisfaction probably isn’t measured in the same way. Metrics about donor satisfaction and how your deliverables are quantified (X number of meals delivered, X amount of money raised, etc.) will be crucial for future marketing and volunteer recruiting efforts, because donors and volunteers want to know their time and money are making a powerful difference.

So, your task here is to figure out what it is you’re looking for (based on what your team is asking for on a routine basis), what data you already have, and what the sources are.

Step 2: What pieces are missing in this picture?

Are there people and business coming to you, and you can’t account for how they found you? Are there questions related to your business and operations that you can’t answer? For example, who is ordering all your small and medium unisex t-shirts and why do you keep selling out of them? Are donors donating because they care about children or because they care about preventing the spread of childhood diseases across the globe?

If there are questions coming up that you and your team can’t answer, then there’s data missing, and you need to find where it’s hiding and how to collect it. Can’t figure out where the missing data piece is hiding? Find a consulting group that can help you, and make sure they are familiar with your industry.

Step 3: Put the pieces together. Integrate.

This is where the fun – and the work – really start! Because finally, after collecting all the numbers and analytics from all your different sources, you can finally start to see how the data work together!

The integration step means not just pulling the pieces together but also finding a meaningful way to present the data and continue to track it. If you have an in-house BI or analytics department, they should be able to put together a dashboard that can integrate your data for you. That way, you can get a solid snapshot of where your organization stands at any given time.

If you don’t have an in-house group and aren’t already working with a consultant on your BI initiatives, then now is the time to bring one in, because integrating data from disparate sources can be extremely tricky. Even with the relatively recent development of robust APIs, which can make integrating cloud-based applications easier than before, there is still a lot of work that usually goes into integrating different systems. Pre-fabbed BI applications traditionally need a lot of customization, too. Whether you’re looking at on-premises, BI applications or wanting to integrate cloud-based applications, it will take work and testing to create a final dashboard that is actually useful to your organization.

Keep in mind that if you are involved in an industry that has extra privacy and security requirements, such as e-commerce, the healthcare industry, financial services, and the mortgage industry, to name a few, you may have extra barriers to overcome to integrate data sources with your current systems, such as Salesforce and other CRM applications, patient portals, and e-commerce websites. Make sure you work with consultants who are familiar with regulations within your industry, as well as with the software and security applications you commonly work with.

Step 4: Your “Ah-ha” moment! What do the metrics mean?

Step 4 is the moment you’ve been waiting for – that magical moment when the pieces finally come together, and you find answers to your most pressing business, operational, and marketing questions. Sometimes, the answers will jump right out at you. Other times, it will take some additional thought, analysis, and consultation.

Whether your numbers and data make sense and you’re ready to run with the results, or you suddenly see areas you missed and have to go back a few steps, you’re still making progress at this point. Because it’s always better to have to go back and pick up pieces to complete the picture than not to have the information at all.

And step 4 is not the end, but the beginning. As the analytics pour in, you’ll need to monitor and analyze them regularly not only to achieve your initial goals but to figure out your best next steps.

Self-serve data is one of the most amazing and impactful technological breakthroughs to happen to business in this decade! But it’s also one of the most dangerous developments for business. If misused, it can send you careening in the wrong direction and off a cliff. That’s why it’s critical to read your metrics properly and to get your analysis right. You also want to scale your BI processes and findings as appropriate across the enterprise. Don’t silo departments. Make sure everyone is sharing and has access to the information they need.

And most importantly, make sure everyone has access to the same vision and picture that the data present. Make sure everyone knows the role they play in making that vision happen.

Get the analytics you need. Stop wasting the time and effort you’re putting into BI. Follow these 4 steps to help your organization get the most from your business intelligence initiatives by breaking down the process into manageable chunks. Give each step the thoughtful consideration it deserves. You should be rewarded with the feedback you need to spend your time and money more wisely and tackle future goals, needs, and trends successfully.