Getting Business Value from BI Today

Today’s economy and business environment poses problems for many IT departments. Budgets are tight, companies are looking for ways to reduce headcount, and strategic investments are not very popular right now. Instead, companies are focusing on projects that have immediate ROI, primarily in the form of cutting costs. This has particular impact on BI projects, since they often have longer time frames, and in many cases, don’t have clearly defined ROI. The effects of this are becoming evident. A number of consulting firms in the southeast US have cut back on the number of BI consultants they employ, and a number of companies in the region are cutting back on planned BI expenditures.

Since I believe very strongly that BI is a valuable investment, I hate to see this, but it is understandable. If you are beginning a large data warehouse project, that projects 12 months or more before any value is delivered to the users, it’s not a very attractive investment right now. So, given the current environment, what can you do to ensure that your BI projects don’t end up on the chopping block?

Solve Existing Problems

Focus on solving existing problems, rather than trying to anticipate future needs. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you do need to invest in creating the BI infrastructure to handle future needs. However, in the current environment, business decisions makers are much more interested in hearing about the problem you can solve today, not the problems that they may encounter in a few years (if the business is still around).

Identify ROI

Identify the ROI up front. Too many BI projects get started on the vague promise of “When we have all this data together, we’ll be able to do great things!”. That’s not enough to justify expenditures today. Instead, you need a clear understanding of the problem, the cost of solving it, and the cost of not solving it. In a cost cutting environment, the latter point is often effective in communicating why the project needs to be done.

Incremental Wins

Look for incremental wins. As I’ve commented before, many BI initiatives take on a massive amount of scope, and run for many months before producing anything of value. An incremental approach allows you to demonstrate value to the stakeholders rapidly, and those incremental demonstrations of your ability to solve the problem often result in additional funding coming your way.

Do More With What You Have

Now that PerformancePoint Services is being rolled into SharePoint, there is an opportunity to provide additional BI with minimal or no investment in software, particularly if your company already uses SharePoint. By combining the capabilities of PerformancePoint with the workflow capabilities in SharePoint, you can provide some very interesting solutions in optimizing business processes, and making sure that the users of the process have the appropriate information at their fingertips.

By focusing on quick wins that have immediate ROI, BI teams can still provide a lot of value to the business. Demonstrating this value is the key to keeping your BI initiatives alive in a down economy.

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