Good data is a critical component for any business looking to grow and become more successful in the long term. One of the most common drains on an FP&A team’s time is wrestling with various data to extract the main drivers and actionable insights to improve decision making. Having the right systems in place will significantly help with analysis and delivering reporting that is consistent, accurate and timely. This is where investing in a Business Intelligence (BI) system can readily add value. And once you’ve selected a BI system, solid BI implementation strategy is imperative to the success of its implementation and the value you derive from the system.
First things first, let’s take a moment to explain what a BI system is designed to do.
BI systems interface with various systems that an organization uses to manage their critical processes. These processes include its financial activities – which are usually managed in an accounting or ERP system, manufacturing systems, customer resource management (CRM) system and various others. All the data generated by these source systems is then able to be integrated into a database that is a central part of the BI tool.
As the data is integrated, it is organized, and new relationships can be defined that will help drive analytical reporting capabilities for a range of customers – from daily detailed reporting for analysts to summarized reports for senior executives.
Evaluating and implementing a BI system is a key milestone for any organization seeking to become strategic and deliberate about how it operates and responds to competition. Now, let’s review some key considerations to include in your BI implementation strategy.
Secure executive support for your BI implementation strategy to improve results.
Often, people in the workplace, regardless of position and motivations, are inherently resistant to change. Like all major initiatives, successful BI implementation relies on buy-in from all the departments that are connected to the data that will be available in the new system.
As a company starts on the journey to connect all the key functions through analytics, the resulting data may highlight issues with processes, accuracy, relevance and functional responsibilities. Some of these questions will lead to deeper reflection while others will be easier to explain. In either case, having a strong top-down support system will help as you navigate through some of these dilemmas. Without this support, building the robust, questioning culture needed for an effective BI system will not be possible.
Ensure a clear definition of scope.
One of the biggest challenges that lead to a failed implementation is the Finance and management teams expecting BI to solve all the problems in Finance and across the Operational teams. This “boil the ocean” approach typically results in mismatches between expectation and delivery as stakeholder have inconsistent understandings of:
- The benefits and improvements that the new system will bring,
- The real-world capabilities of the system and
- The bandwidth of the project team.
Being too ambitious about what will be accomplished is a common issue and results in a breakdown of trust between the Executive team and project sponsors. One successful approach to defining and project scope management is to form a small, cross-functional project committee. This committee should have enough exposure around the business and industry, and it should be able to articulate three to six reports that can address the most common questions from the business operators.
The FP&A team is well positioned to take a central role in coordinating the data needs through collaborating with each of the functions involved. All meaningful data should ultimately have a cost or efficiency perspective – and measuring this performance systemically is the only way to affect change and improve performance. With this perspective, the Finance team should guide the objectives to accomplish this level of reporting – first through basic reporting and ultimately visualization in the form of real time dashboards and charts. Most enterprise-level BI tools connect to a wide range of sources – you can start with one function, develop focus and proficiency and repeat the process. This helps build credibility and develop a culture of curiosity and innovative analyses.
Build your BI before implementing the BI system.
One of the main lessons I have learned about BI implementation strategy through previous successful projects is to have a working model of the ideal system in place. Obviously, this will be at a significantly smaller scale. That noted, building a pipeline of data tables that are either manually updated and a prototype of some of the reporting already being used by the business helps significantly define the scope of an implementation. It can also identify areas where a process can be improved through implementing an enterprise-level system.
Building this model in Excel is a good starting point. It will require some investment in time at the beginning, but the effort will really help stakeholders and the internal and external implementation team visualize how an ideal system needs to look and operate. Developing such a model in Microsoft Access will be considerably better than Excel since Access fundamentally operates like a BI system with its relational database structure.
Self-service BI is the most impactful.
A central premise of BI systems is to democratize the analytical process. Modern BI systems empower business users to access financial and operational reporting and executive dashboards, as well as memorialize and share managerial narratives in a central archive for future reference on demand. There is no need to be at the mercy of the FP&A, IT or any other analytical team.
Getting to this point involves some training, but the benefits to coworkers and the company will be significant over time. Rather than FP&A being the only eyes and ears of the businesses when it comes to identifying areas of concern or further investigation, the people in operations can see the impacts of their day-to-day decisions for themselves. This also means much of the data cleaning and analysis must be automated, leaving FP&A to focus on supporting the business with more intelligent insights, deeper questions and help with formulating plans to address future direction. This is where the real value-added work begins.
Good BI implementation strategy starts with knowing business teams need to own BI (not IT).
A well-defined and effective BI system integrates data from many departmental source systems across the organization. It operates as a one-stop shop for anyone in the company looking to analyze information in ways that were not previously possible given the compressed timeframes in most businesses.
Over time, it’s natural for source systems to need maintenance, interrupting daily transmissions. It is also common to find the source system data is being captured incorrectly or is otherwise inaccurate. To ensure the continuity of the BI system, Finance/FP&A or the relevant business teams need to take ownership of the tool, identify when there are issues and work rapidly to resolve them.
Internal IT teams are already occupied with maintaining many technologies and financial systems in addition to the myriad of ongoing projects in their department. That means IT teams are often spread too thin to monitor and resolve issues with real data, and they may not be able to provide the resources for a few weeks – and in the meantime, precious opportunities to analyze data are lost. Many BI tools are designed to be administered by superusers (and not technical IT folks) for this very reason. Ideally, there should be a resource in Finance (given their skillset in analyzing data even prior to implementing a BI system) or within the operational teams that are using the tool daily. This will ensure issues are resolved in a timely fashion and reporting is as accurate as possible.
Set your BI implementation strategy up for success.
The considerations discussed above are just some of the learnings I have found helpful through by own experiences. They will help your implementation strategy set the company up for success by deploying and expanding their analytical capabilities. If you’d like to learn more about business intelligence tools or get support from 8020 Consulting, visit our financial systems services page, or contact us directly. You can also learn more about systems best practices in our downloadable ebook, which covers translatable selection and implementation principles:
About the Author
Ebrahim has 17+ years of experience in finance across diverse industries including a global shipping terminal conglomerate, logistics, manufacturing, retail and consumer product companies. His experience spans mid-sized, Fortune 500 and private-equity-owned companies in England and USA. He has established FP&A processes from the ground up, spending most of his time in the trenches working with Operational and Financial Executives to understand performance through a range of analytical tools and by leveraging his deep experience in leading Operational Finance. His experience encompasses strategic planning, budgeting, forecasting, management and Board commentaries/reporting, financial/operational modeling, FP&A, P&L review/management, system design and process re-engineering. He has led the implementation of a company-wide BI system for an international terminal operator. He holds an MBA in Supply Chain from CSU Long Beach, an MS in Finance from Henley Business School. He is a Chartered Accountant (UK) and Certified Management Accountant.