Co-Founder & Chief Executive at ChristianSteven Software, a report automation and business intelligence software company.
Business intelligence is best served when it is accessible to the broadest groups of people within your organization. Too many organizations have inadvertently developed a culture of “elite” analysts entitled to access this holy grail as if the untrained are incapable of envisioning new ways of viewing and experimenting with data. This is not to say there’s no need for a qualified cadre of data analysts capable of performing deep and complex dives. But the idea of compartmentalizing people into authorized and unauthorized data users limits the potential of your enterprise.
Instead, you should elevate the role of your data analysts so they can serve as data experts and mentors to the rest of your organization. This simplifies data analytics and empowers all users to learn how to leverage business intelligence to increase their productivity, value and satisfaction.
With this expanded notion of employing business intelligence more widely across your organization, the need for scalability also expands in new directions. This does not pose a problem for the informed executive who, once aware of the varying scalability demands, can ensure the appropriate tools and resources are in place to support the demand and pave the way for expanding the power and profitability of business intelligence.
This is the scalability demand with which every executive is already familiar because every system must be able to flex with the needs of the organization. The typical formula used to measure its ability to perform at the scale demanded is to calculate the dynamics of the three components involved in analysis:
- Number of users.
- Query volume.
- Data sources.
When any of those factors increase, so do system demands — sometimes exponentially. By democratizing your data sources (i.e., making them available to everyone), you must also ensure your system has the ability to scale appropriately. Such agile demands are best managed with cloud solutions, which is another reason more companies have migrated to cloud computing.
This refers to the strategy put into place to introduce business intelligence as the new standard for working, and it involves employing training and improving usability.
As accessibility to business intelligence tools expands to more users, there is an equal need to simplify the user interface. This anticipates and answers the tendency for novice users to avoid or resist the learning curve because it’s “too hard to learn.” If you view usability as a design concern, you can set the proper challenge for your IT team to step up and develop highly usable interfaces.
Even with the best simplification interfaces put in place, the demand for training still exists and must be effectively addressed. Creating mentor sessions, interactive learning modules and even offering contests and creating user groups can enhance the social aspect of learning, increasing motivation and comprehension significantly.
An innately intelligent system learns as it grows and trains its users. User feedback becomes the source for an ever-growing business intelligence department that no longer stands alone and elite but integrates into the daily functions of the organization, learning and adapting like every other worker.
While big data remains an important aspect of all business intelligence, don’t overlook small data. Scalability should also address and manage the varied forms of data, like cloud data, text documents, images and videos, spreadsheets and email archives.
Recognizing that opening up business intelligence as another standard and a user-friendly tool for more users will result in the creation of new data sources and collection methodologies that prepare you for effective data scalability. Visualizing a data environment that grows and adapts to the analyses and conclusions of previous data queries creates a data environment capable of not just keeping with the flow but creating new streams and avenues of exploration and potential profitability.
Finally, perhaps the most overlooked yet most important of all facets of scalability is analytic scalability. Simply put, you have large pictures, small pictures and all kinds of intermediate data snapshots. Having the ability to zoom in on specific issues and then pull away to view how those particulars integrate (or not) into the larger operation gives you the type of innate intelligence that can mimic the human capacity to similarly change our focus to meet our current demands and needs.
In addition to the scalability demands that must be part and parcel of any analytics process is the need for flexibility. Your data warehouse should not be so rigid as to limit queries or forecasts; the better your analytics can handle out-of-the-box problems, the sharper and more relevant your business intelligence becomes.
Making sure your system has enough tools to present data in a variety of formats means your business intelligence system learns to speak your language — not the other way around. Sometimes, converting data on a bar chart to an actionable and clear map brings data alive, avoiding the potential pitfall of misinterpreting charts and diagrams. The fact is, we are visual creatures with different points of view that can bring enlightenment, so it is our analytics that should flex to our intelligence.
Analytic scalability is a system concern: You need to run your system through the gamut to ensure it has the capacity to meet your intelligence demands. This means a system that’s able to meet user requests and deliver the most useful and relevant representation of your data queries. In essence, the more your analytics system can answer questions in the ways humans will ask them, the more brilliant your business intelligence system will become.
When your analytics system can embrace and serve these four important aspects of scalability — system, adoption, data and analytic — you will find business intelligence is no longer a stand-alone function but instead opens new communications, ideas and inspirations to your entire staff. Bringing business intelligence into the general fold boosts the intelligence of your systems and your people, uniting your staff to its singular purpose of top performance.
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