Data Management & the Continued Use of Excel
Small and medium-sized businesses aren’t able to afford business intelligence software platforms that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, that’s no longer an obstacle with the rise of affordable, easy to use BI tools like arcplan. Once you’ve decided that you need better, faster answers to your business questions, you start to get into the nitty gritty details of what a BI deployment means and how you need to prepare your data. Let’s continue with our series on the most frequently asked questions SMBs have when it comes to BI. This time I’ll address questions about data management and spreadsheets.
5) How much data do we need?
The #1 technology challenge for SMBs is getting insight from the data they already have. The average SMB has over 27 unique data sources according to research conducted by The Aberdeen Group – from ERP systems and General Ledgers to CRM tools, social media and more. Your company should carefully consider the amount, type, and “freshness” of data that your organization requires for its reporting.
- How many data sources are really critical to our decision-making?
- Do we need real-time data access or will daily or weekly updates do the job?
- How far back do we need to go? Do we need 5-year-old data or is only recent data important?
Cloud BI vs. SaaS
Continuing with our series on frequently asked questions by small and medium-sized businesses about business intelligence, today I’ll address cloud BI and SaaS BI. They’re not actually the same thing, though some of their characteristics overlap.
3) Should we choose an on-premise BI solution or one hosted in the cloud?
This can be an important distinction when choosing your shortlist of vendors; however more and more are offering both on-premise and cloud deployment models, including arcplan. If you’re unsure, shortlisting vendors that offer both is a good plan. That way, you can choose the deployment model after deciding that the product’s features match your needs.
Choosing whether or not to deploy BI in the cloud brings up some special considerations – how concerned about data security you are, where your data will be stored, and whether you have the resources in-house to manage the hardware necessary for your BI deployment.
If data security is a major concern, there are ways to store your corporate data securely behind a firewall and broadcast queries to your cloud BI system. As we often say at arcplan, you don’t necessarily have to move your data to the cloud in order for your BI to be there. That may seem confusing, so let me clarify…
In my last post, I ruminated on the problems that plague business intelligence dashboards. Traditional dashboards simply haven’t evolved as quickly as modern businesses, where decisions are made by many levels of management and need to be informed by various areas of the business – finance, marketing, sales, operations and more. If your dashboard is confined to your department’s metrics alone, it’s doing you a disservice. Dashboards of the future will require cross-functional views of KPIs to really be effective. And they’ll embed more self-service options than ever. The good news is that future-proofing your dashboards is possible. Here’s how:
1) Make your dashboards searchable.
Key performance indicators are essential for monitoring business performance. Last time, I talked about how “KPI overload” – common in so many businesses I’ve worked with – can cloud business insight. However in some cases, having hundreds of KPIs may actually be necessary for understanding and managing your performance. If you need KPIs from many parts of the business in order to make good decisions, it can become a complex task to find the information you need. So consider making your dashboards search-enabled so that users can easily find the metrics they’re looking for. Searching is how users find information; “Google” is a verb for a reason. So why should your BI system be any different?
2) Make your dashboards personalized.
Dashboards serve as a point of reference for business leaders, many times per day or at least a few times per week. Either way, your dashboard should be one of the things you look at the most in a given week (besides your husband, wife, or kids of course). From a personalization perspective, there’s something we can learn from a social medial platform like Pinterest…
Business intelligence dashboards are stuck in the past. It may be controversial to say but it’s true – not much has changed over the past few decades when it comes to BI dashboards. Sure, we’ve defined some decent design rules, some guidelines for developing good, traditional dashboards. But a lot of the dashboards I see as VP of Solutions Delivery at arcplan don’t adequately address the needs of today’s executives, who need cross-functional views of KPIs from various departments in order to make good decisions. We aren’t living in a silo’ world; decision makers need regular access to KPIs from finance, marketing, sales, operations and HR to make good decisions. Do you have a dashboard that enables this kind of view?
If not, let’s examine what’s wrong with your BI dashboards:
1. Their silo’d foundation is a hindrance.
In the early years of data warehouse development, data was stored according to functional areas or departments. Finance, Sales, and Operations each had their own data marts and corresponding dashboards for each department. In today’s business environment, dashboards that are silo’d like your data don’t accommodate your needs. With hundreds or even thousands at KPIs in use at your company – and limited time to access and evaluate them all – a silo’d approach to data access is problematic. You need to access important information at a moment’s notice, not waste time logging into individual systems or viewing separate dashboards to get the data you need to make informed decisions. You’ve probably quickly grown weary of this process and you may even be settling for whatever information is most convenient to use, which – needless to say – is usually not the best option. An ideal dashboard solution bridges multiple information sources to give you a holistic view of the organization – one that matches your role and includes only relevant KPIs.
2. There’s a “Where’s Waldo?” element to finding the right KPIs.
Recently I had a meeting with one of arcplan’s customers in the US, who explained that their arcplan system has grown to manage 4,000 KPIs in just 5 years.