ORLANDO—Effective presentations of business intelligence insights rely on good business processes and strong data and project management practices. Those were lessons from two of the more interesting user presentations at the Information Builders Summit held here June 3 through 7 with 1,400 attendees.
Information Builders supplies business intelligence, business analytics, and data reporting software for a variety of customers in the education, government, manufacturing, health, and retail industries. Like other technology vendors in the BI and analytics market, Information Builders makes the point that the spread of data-driven analytics has not only moved across industries and sectors, it has also moved throughout organizations. The company released results from a research study to coincide with the conference that showed “more than 8 out of 10 employees are reporting involvement with business intelligence and analytics.” The study showed that while most organizations regularly solicit feedback from executive management, mid-level management and knowledge workers about their information delivery preferences, they check with others in the enterprise—people like front-line employees, customers, external partners and suppliers, less often. The results came from a survey of 401 business decision makers conducted by IDG Research Services.
The company also used the occasion of its conference to announce its iWay 7 Information Management Asset Platform, a suite of data and application integration technologies and master data management capabilities. The company makes the related WebFocus BI platform for interactive dashboards, and it is that technology that was the focus of two customer presentations recounted below.
Knowing Your BI Customer
Kal Kondepati, a developer of dashboard applications at Minneapolis-based Plus Relocation Services, gave a presentation (“Which Customer Is Your BI Facing?”) that highlighted some of the challenges he faced rolling out a business intelligence implementation.
Kondepati, who’s been using WebFocus since 2008, explained that one of his biggest issues was trying to create one application that effectively served both his strategic and analytic, as well as, operations users. He said he needed a “one size suits all,” a presentation that was adaptive to each group of users, instead of a traditional “one size fits all” data display.
This requirement brought about Plus Relocation’s InformAgility software as a service (SaaS) offered as a customer facing analytical dashboard, in 2009.
Customers wanted a modern interface, without data gaps, with the capability for the user to dictate and change what was shown on the screen according to their business needs.
The first step was to narrow down the requirements. The team approached this in phases, interviewed all the users and then went through a large number of code iterations. Dashboard design was an important factor. Quite a bit of time was spent making colors consistent on the charts. For example the color of a bar of data on one chart should be the same color if that same data is used, on a different chart.
Kondepati stressed the importance of understanding what the data customer really needs. Every user in the company was interviewed to focus in on their data requirements. Chart and data usage were also monitored and verified using the User Resource Analyzer in WebFocus. Time was also spent with users and the business leaders collaboratively looking at the company’s business needs then making adjustments to the application, as it evolved.
Having the ability for the software to auto-detect browsers and make appropriate dashboard view adjustments, was an important requirement, Kondepati said. There were a wide array of browsers out in the customer space and the application needed to easily adjust to varying widths and heights. To create the best user application experience possible, Kondepati suggested that developers minimize the number of clicks needed to get results and provide the right visual for the right metric. He also suggested that developers stick with the basics in WebFocus, to minimize poor text and graphics rendering resulting from new features that are frequently introduced in new browsers.
A Bank’s Information Management Journey
Another speaker, Michael Wong, enterprise information services director at RBC Royal Bank, discussed the “information management journey” that his group experienced while developing their business intelligence information processes over many years.
RBC is Canada’s largest bank and the fifth largest in North America with 15 million clients and around 80,000 employees. Data modeling has been a standard process implemented throughout the company’s 18-year information management effort, Wong said.
He said that the three keys for developers of great information processes were to keep things simple, build on solid foundations, deliver and focus on what’s valuable to the customer. The idea of providing an approximate solution delivered reliably, is better than an absolute solution that’s unreliable, he said.
Wong also pointed out that data in a data warehouse is what feeds business intelligence. So, standardizing and normalizing, and data reuse, over and over is vitally important. Over time RBC became good at reporting on structured data and now offers customers the service of rebuilding all of their historic bank transactions for a small fee, from any branch. They use WebFocus, Information Builders’ business intelligence platform, to output the results.
Wong pointed out that an unexpected insight that showed up on the journey was that there can be a lot of dead ends and blind alleys. He related that your data and analysis may not always lead to any meaningful process improvement. Value and opportunities sometimes come by looking around the edges and exploring alternative directions.
Social media was a subject of inquiry, for example. RBC managers speculated that they might investigate commercial customer Facebook comments for hints on ways to improve service and avert issues, Wong said. Interestingly, the data showed almost no negative comments.
After a period of time, they simply abandoned that initiative and searched more diligently for sources of customer feedback in other places. It turned out that commercial customers prefer to route issues through their RBC sales representative. That was the main avenue of interaction for the commercial customer and this insight informed the bank’s customer service approach.
Toward the end of the talk, Wong gave a list of best practices for information management projects:
- Always look back for feedback and improvements.
- Deliver value not technology.
- Select initiatives small enough to deliver a win and big enough to matter.
- Listen to business partners and understand business objectives.
- Ensure subject matter experts and data specialists are participating.
- Establish strong vendor partnerships.
Wong wrapped up his talk by saying that the presentation (WebFocus) parts of a project are easy. Data warehouse management, updates, being able to reuse data (from the data warehouse), and consistently delivering over and over and over, is the tough part.
Rob Reilly is an Orlando-based independent consultant, speaker, and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.