When BI (Business Intelligence) turns to BS

Jan. 1, 2020
Technology and the huge capability that comes with it has revolutionized the sales and sales management worlds by making data available which a few short years ago would have been unimaginable.
Technology and the huge capability that comes with it has revolutionized the sales and sales management worlds by making data available which a few short years ago would have been unimaginable.

Business intelligence (BI) refers to the process of making better business decisions through the use of process, data, key people, and related tools to report, analyze and predict what is going on in a particular market, with customers and potential customers or with specific marketing campaigns.

Intelligence here is not referring to a bunch of smart people but more toward what people in the field are observing, customers and would be customers are saying or doing, and what actual strategic and tactical trends are showing. Business intelligence is solely designed to get information into the hands of owners, stakeholders and senior managers as soon as it is possible and in a format that will allow them to make better, more informed and timely decisions, and to identify opportunities.

BI is the process that gathers information, warehouses and presents operational data, and does this in a format that is timely, concise and actionable. More and more, BI relies on near real-time data that includes operational data, marketing, CRM, logistics, and supply chain and other pertinent enterprise-wide data that affect the ability to service a market, or allow us to respond to emerging trends and opportunities. Business intelligence is the process of our knowing our market so that we can own our market and ultimately retain our market. BI is not only having the quality data but being in a position to do something about it.

I would purposely draw the correlation between historical events we should have anticipated and responded to and the use of business intelligence in our current day corporate and organizational worlds. In both Pearl Harbor in 1941 and on September 11 of 2001, we were in possession of specific and credible information that should have allowed us to avoid these disasters but in both of these cases the data either failed to make it to key decision makers or we made conscious decisions to disregard what the data was telling us. This is not an attempt to relive history and certainly not an attempt to critique what was or was not done in these two instances but it is an attempt to highlight the fact that having the intelligence is only half the battle. Having the qualified, quality data on time and in a format that will discern a threat or an opportunity is the key.

Having important, actionable information buried beneath a mountain of irrelevancy is little different than not having the information at all. Having business intelligence is only useful if you are able to act upon it. It is only useful if you can identify the forest through all of those trees.

 

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Before we get into all that the data might or might not represent, I think it very important that we understand what it is that our customers want and what are our goals in accomplishing this. In other words, what is the plan and how do we define success. Far too often I see companies and organizations launch themselves at a market with no clear understanding of what the customer is looking for and in far too many cases with no understanding of our ability to deliver on these needs.

Complicated as it might sound, I think it very important that any company or organization operating in a market or looking to enter a market, have an in depth understanding of what our customers and potential customers are looking for and an in- depth understanding of our ability to deliver. A market survey will certainly tell us what the customers are looking for and help us develop a broad strategic plan toward delivery. An internal audit will either confirm our ability to deliver or challenges that we will need to overcome to that end. If we are going to hit a market, we might as well do it with an eye toward meeting our customer’s needs, right?

Understanding is an important step toward accomplishment.

Business intelligence is all about knowledge and understanding, not just data.

Another important consideration is executive sponsorship. There is nothing like executive sponsorship to create a sense of urgency in any task we would take on, and the oversight and attention that would accompany this is critical in bringing integrity and quality to our BI table. The various tasks and strategies we take on are only important and only critical if our executives and our stakeholders say they are. I have seen far too many projects taken on and attempts made toward implementation with little or no buy-in from executive management, and in nearly every case, we see a partial effort, with no sense of urgency or commitment.

Until someone senior defines a task or a process as critical, and until someone senior defines change and direction, most among us will not move from our current course. You can beat on that middle management door all day long but true change only comes out of that executive suite. My strong advice is to tie all of our plans, anything we would undertake or suggest, to our broad strategic plan and start the selling process with our executives. Executives and senior managers are generally good at seeing through the smoke and in the same way are adept at seizing an opportunity and finding ways to make us better. Bringing a problem or challenge to an executive’s desk is the quickest way imaginable to put the brakes on and impede the steps forward you are attempting to make.

Bringing a well thought out solution is the very best way to move things forward and in a direction you would choose. More than anything else, executives and stakeholders pay you for viable solutions. Of course there is a risk here with those pesky executives having long memories and expectations of performance, but with you suggesting well thought out solutions, I am guessing that accountability is something you are comfortable with.

See, that sense of urgency is there already and you haven’t made the first suggestion yet!

Executive sponsorship is very important in our taking the journey and in getting the entire team committed to something better. Your job is helping those executives see the value in the paths that you suggest. Anyone can ride an inefficient or ineffective process to the glory of no one. Stepping forward and suggesting something better is a lonelier path but one bursting with opportunity.

Business intelligence is a process that goes a long way toward bringing together the knowledge and complete resource of a company or organization in an effort to make the very best strategic and tactical decisions based upon the best available enterprise wide information. This includes human intelligence in the form of customer interactions and surveys, operational intelligence in the form of staffing, production, inventory and product pipeline, along with trends mapping and financial condition that will allow key decision makers to make good and timely decisions. A few short years ago “most current” often meant data compiled from last month or last quarter but with technology and upgraded tracking systems and improved lines of communication, near ‘real-time’ is fairly typical and we have the ability to look at our operation to a level of granularity never before known, right down to individual transactions as they are occurring. The result of this is an ability to respond more quickly, with greater flexibility and accuracy than ever before. This is a good thing right?

Business intelligence at its very best gives unprecedented view into where we are right this very minute, along with an unprecedented insight into the customer or would-be customer standing right in front of us. At its best BI will allow us to anticipate need, be competitive with pricing and give us an in depth insight into who we are dealing with. These are all keys in our efforts to close any deal or make any sale. Recognizing our abilities and capabilities and contrasting them with what customers are looking for and being able to do this with great accuracy should allow us to enjoy selling success, long-term growth, and improved market share. Again, BI is our knowing and thereby owning our markets. At its best BI allows us to do that. Business intelligence is not a cure for all that ails your business or organization. When fully deployed, BI will make your business more efficient, visible, responsive and flexible; done wrong or half-heartedly, you will work a lot harder with no appreciable gain or benefit.

With all the potential good that could come out of the effort and with the many ways you could set yourself and your business or organization apart from the competition, not fully exploring and implementing some process toward Business Intelligence is just dumb.

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