Controlling departments are often the entry point for analytical solutions, but since this is a young field in the region, it is obvious that many controllers are finding themselves in the role of a project manager as BI solutions are implemented in their companies for the first time.
The first challenge controllers must face is choosing a solution that best fits their company. There are numerous vendors on the market, offering different solutions. Roughly, the market can be divided into large stacks of vendors and self-service solutions.
IT ALL STARTS WITH THE RIGHT QUESTION
One of the global leaders in BI is using the slogan “It’s All About Asking and Answering the Next Question”, which is an interesting proposition for a controller wondering which direction to take. Controllers want their questions answered without having to wait for an answer from the IT department or another user. If a solution enables a controller to find answers to his own business-related questions, the company is probably on the right track to implementing a flexible solution. As they begin their search, companies often decide to issue a request for proposals as the first step in choosing a solution. While this is not necessarily a wrong step, the fact remains that tender requirements focus on technical features rather than business needs.
»Every modern BI solution must be flexible and deliver high technological quality; however, the introduction of a BI solution into a company is a business project and as such requires user validation.«
NEXT STEP: PROOF OF CONCEPT
The flexibility of a BI solution is best experienced using a proof of concept, the goal of which is to try and solve an analytical problem user is facing over the period of a couple of days.
»Because of the direct contact with users, the proof of concept project is proving to be the best approach to the process of choosing the right solution.«
FINDING THE BALANCE BETWEEN NEEDS AND WISHES
Of course, the real challenge begins only once the solution is selected. The main task for the controller is to define the goals of the BI solution implementation. Most commonly, the goal is to take sets of unorganized and unprocessed data and generate coherent information. The most common pitfall of BI projects is that scope is defined as list of reports someone has to deliver when in real life it should be a list of processes that should be optimized and sped up. Typical processes in controlling that a BI project has the most impact on are cost (re)allocation, business rules and P&L reports definition, link between synthetic GL data and detailed analytics, posting adjustments after month closure etc.
»The providers’ experience with successful projects shows that an agile approach to BI project implementation is a very effective way to manage changes.«
CHANGE MANAGEMENT AND ENGAGING THE END USERS FROM THE VERY BEGINNING
Change management is often overlooked on BI implementation projects, where the focus is placed on technical issues, reports, files, charts and rows. The human factor, however, represents the highest risk for BI projects, and you can ensure a successful implementation by working with users, training them, and managing change. The technology itself and managers who are aware that technology is necessary are the prerequisites to making any change happen. Still, without engaging the end users in the project and changing their mindset, projects of this kind are doomed to fail.
AGILE APPROACH – THE BEST RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
The above-mentioned agile approach to the implementation is a key method for solving these challenges. In the agile approach, the client introduces the BI solution in one department and then rolls out the change to a small number of key users. Once these users can see the benefits in their daily work, the role model principle is used to influence other employees so that they can adjust to change faster and more easily.
BUSINESS USERS INDEPENDENT FROM THE IT, AND VICE VERSA
After the BI solution is successfully implemented in the company, users who adapted to the changes can utilize the technology to make faster and better decisions. In addition, cooperation between business users and IT departments gains a completely new dimension in which everyone has clearly divided tasks. IT no longer needs to waste time creating reports and can focus instead on the accuracy of the system data.
»Business users, on the other hand, can independently analyse data and make decisions.«
WHAT ABOUT ROI?
ROI analysis in a BI project is a topic that is often avoided with the excuse that returns are impossible to measure. What the controller needs to understand is that there are nonetheless various business areas where the results of a successful BI solution implementation can be very visible and measurable.
“The first type of ROI measurable by the company is the ability to analyse data every day using a smartphone, which is especially important from the point of view of the CFO and an important benefit compared to waiting for the 20th day of following month to have the numbers ready.”
Key benefits from controllers’ perspective are less time spent on data preparation and modelling, shorter revision periods and month/year closing periods and full control over adjustment postings and cost reallocations.
Many Adacta clients used analyses that integrated their business data with market share data and competitive analyses as the basis to make strategic business decisions, such as changes to their product portfolios or introducing new products, finding themselves in a position that enabled them to improve their market share.
Finally, ROI can also be measured at the operational level, where there are several industry-specific applications, such as the optimization of transport routes, price sensitivity analysis and price policies, inventory management analysis in retail, wholesale and distribution or risk management and product portfolio management in financial institutions.
HIGH-LEVEL COOPERATION BETWEEN THE CLIENT AND THE VENDOR IS A MUST
The steps described above are not a recipe for a successful BI project management, but they do provide a good insight into the key steps for people who are encountering these challenges for the first time. Regardless of the experience level, cooperation between the client and the vendor on such projects must be at a high level, because good cooperation is a basic prerequisite for any successful project.
Milan Listeš, BI Department Manager
Adacta, programska oprema d.o.o
Verovškova 55a, 1000 Ljubljana