Collaboration is probably one of the most neglected aspects in businesses today. It is an ironic statement because CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, Middle Management staff and all employees have a much wider range of communication technologies available to them today than ever before and yet we see very little to no collaboration.
The success of every goal or objective an organisation has depends largely on their collaboration policies. Be it user adoption of new technologies or enhanced client engagement or introduction of a new company policy, if collaboration is poor, the project is headed for disaster.
However, I would not be too quick to blame organisations for poor collaboration. The vast myriad of communication technologies available today also comes with various complexities. One only needs to take a look at the varied number of social media avenues. It is almost impossible to be present on all of it all the time even though each one of the avenues has their own strengths. The complexities of the communication technologies available today vary from implementations to integration with internal systems and extends to ongoing maintenance and management. But if handled smartly, it can benefit the organisation immensely. The vast amount of data flowing through these channels can prove to be invaluable to businesses.
I believe collaboration in business intelligence is fast becoming the norm in an already rapidly evolving analytics industry.
The Key Business challenge for most executives is effective COMMUNICATION
We are in 2016 and even today a vast majority of businesses do much of their data analysis, reporting and budgeting on Excel. Sometimes, the information gathered is then published to a pdf or word document. And then collaboration happens like Chinese whispers. The same file is copied multiple times by different users, edited, amended and emailed to various team members. Some like them printed. The end result is that there now exists multiple copies of the same original document; only one of which is final whilst the rest are perceived to be final versions by various users. And they are in multiple formats.
Most businesses might view this as common and probably the right way to go about doing it. This might work for small businesses for the time being. Whilst we are on this topic, consider reading my blog on “Should Small Businesses Invest in BI?”
Let us just consider a practical example of the “Chinese Whispers” style of collaboration in an organisation. When an employee sends an Excel file to another employee, the recipient then edits the document, but this edition is not updated at the sender’s end. Right there, at that point, the document has lost consistency of information. Now consider if this happens two or three times round by different senders and recipients. Users will only end up analysing different data sets and most definitely none of the users are aware of the variances involved. As far as each user is concerned, they have the latest edition of the document.
Achieving shared intelligence and maximizing the opportunity for collective analysis is next to impossible in such cases. This could potentially be due to wrong collaboration technologies in place or due to poor oversight by leadership or a combination of both.
This is where collaborative Business Intelligence comes in handy. The BI tool should however be easy to use, fast, consistent and accessible on mobile devices when required to truly deliver results. Selecting and setting up the right communication framework is the first step in progressing towards collaborative business intelligence.
STEPS TO A SUCCESSFUL BI COLLABORATION PROJECT
Before investing in any popular BI tool, consider the following:
> CONSISTENCY: All forms of data collection, report generation, storage of data and sharing information policies need to be consistent across the organisation. Ensure every department, cost centre and staff member follow exactly the same processes. To execute such a policy, it is important to have a central repository for all data. Consider investing in a data warehouse. This will allow you to return to the warehouse at any stage of the business and retrieve a single consistent version of the data.
> TRACK CHANGES: Data is consistently changing as it moves from user to user in the collaboration process. Ensure there is some form of tracking implemented to monitor the change of data, whilst maintaining a single version of the original source document. Policies must be communicated clearly to all staff and enforced to ensure all changes are tracked by user and shared transparently.
> NOTIFICATIONS: Provision needs to be made to ensure certain actions taken by users triggers a notification to the team. Eg: If a budget template is being used collaboratively, any changes made to the revenue estimates must trigger a notification. There are certain BI tools that can be used to automate this process.
The objective of these initiatives are of course to ensure users, CEOs, CFOs and CTOs are all having discussions based on exactly the same information at all times. In such a scenario, not only is the data trust worthy, the user’s individual insights will prove to be invaluable too. When information is consistent and trust worthy and collaborative business intelligence is in play, the teams and individuals are well positioned to work together towards a common BI objective.
Finance: In a budgeting process, the conventional method is for a template to be emailed across to various department heads or budget cost centre managers. Each budget manager fills in their individual budgets and emails them back to Corporate Finance. The designated person in Corporate Finance then analyses each budget and tries to consolidate them for HQ. If some of the budget managers tampered with the template to suit his/her understanding or interpretation, it further complicates the consolidation process.
With a collaborative budgeting solution offered by a good BI tool, there exists only one template which is shared across the team. Tampering the template or making any modifications is disallowed. Any such forced changes or even changes in certain budget figures triggers a notification which can quickly be acted upon. What’s more? The consolidation happens automatically. In addition, certain BI tools even allow automatic spread of a total budget figure across the fiscal months, saving valuable time for the whole budgeting process.
Sales & Marketing: It is important for sales and marketing personnel to keep abreast of the website traffic for instance. Collaborative BI can prove to be very useful if the team members can get a notification once traffic drops below a certain level. This could prompt them to meet up, discuss and take corrective measures immediately. Conversely, if they get a notification when the traffic rises above a certain level, they could potentially target more opportunities through effective marketing campaigns.
When there is seamless sharing of accurate information and quality interaction amongst team members working towards a common objective, businesses will most definitely see better results. BI collaboration is more achievable today than ever before, especially with the available multiple channels of communication technologies that have entered the market in the past few years. For those ambitious business leaders aspiring to reach for the skies, collaborative business intelligence is something that you should surely consider investing into. In today’s highly competitive business environment, without data; you are just another person with an opinion. Those who have embraced collaborative business intelligence will only be equipped and armed better to take on competition and if that happens to be one of your competitors, they are certain to surge ahead.
Santosh Chandran is the Business Development Manager for BI360 Business Intelligence at Olympic Software. He regularly blogs about business intelligence and corporate performance management. You can follow him on Twitter or on LinkedIn. Please contact him directly if you would like to find out how BI360 can improve your business results through better decision making, phone +649 980 3964 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org