BI Advice, from a User's Perspective


Like IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson, I prefer getting tech opinions and advice from users, rather than analysts, whenever possible. As Loraine notes, analysts "are generally knowledgeable, eloquent, and solid in their recommendations." Yet they just don't have that "been there, done that" perspective that tends to add credence to their suggestions.

Last week I blogged about Gartner's advice on avoiding common problems in business intelligence implementations. Gartner offered some great tips. I think this eWEEK article written by Brent Estes, president and CEO of Rush Health Associates, is a fine complement. Not surprisingly, both Gartner and Estes emphasize the importance of making business users a central part of BI strategy.

Getting business types together with IT was "an immediate first step" for his company, writes Estes. The combined team came up with four key operational objectives that it hoped to achieve with its BI plan: Grow its patient base and increase revenue; boost operational efficiency of its member health care providers; enhance the ability to negotiate better contracts; and develop stronger clinical and medical outreach programs.

While this sounds like a no-brainer, I've talked to a number of vendors and analysts who tell me that companies often want a technology simply because it's heavily hyped. When they sit down to begin hashing out details, they haven't necessarily identified any business goals the technology will help them achieve.

The next step was creating a roadmap, writes Estes. Based on a 2-3 year time frame, it included specific goals around expected BI functionality, technology platform, budgeted financial and resource investments, and measurable success metrics. Again, this is smart advice that sometimes gets ignored.

Estes wraps with three principles that should help any company mulling a BI plan:

  • Begin with the end in mind. Estes suggests asking this: "What will be done with the information once it is available?" Operating with a clear idea in mind also may reveal problems that need to be addressed. For instance, Rush Health Associates realized the "loosely-knit federation of systems" it used to accumulate information about its physician and hospital members and its patients "made developing a comprehensive view of our business an almost impossible task."
  • Always put business before data. That is, don't get so enamored of the technology that you lose sight of the business needs it is designed to solve.
  • Create an organizational plan to support the BI strategy. The best strategy isn't worth much without a clear plan of how to carry it out. As Estes writes, his company's plan "made it easier for business and IT to work together to meet the desired results."