Data integrity at the source is critical to the success of BI implementations

By David McWilliam, Director at Cortell Corporate Performance Management

Business Intelligence (BI) has evolved over the years to offer more functionality and reduced complexity, making solutions easier to use for the non-technical consumer. This has driven user adoption of BI solutions, and BI vendors have kept pace with this demand, delivering ever-more agile tools and offerings. However, one thing that remains constant is the need to use relevant information to deliver insights and recommendations. Data integrity needs to be assured and data quality issues must be addressed if BI insights are to deliver any business value. Ensuring users have access to the right data at the right time in a relevant form should be a top priority when it comes to any BI implementation.

In recent years much investment from vendors has gone into making BI products easier to use with less training than ever before. Alongside this, users are becoming increasingly savvy with regards to technology. This means that the consumption of BI is changing and many more people are now able to derive significant benefits from the presentation, manipulation and analysis of information. Cloud solutions have also made BI tools more readily available to a wider variety of businesses of all sizes. However, if analysis and manipulation is conducted on the wrong data, or on data which is unclean, incorrect or incomplete, any resulting data will be useless at best and at worst cause poor decisions to be made based on false insight.

As a result, the successful implementation of BI is no longer simply about getting the right software, but about assuring the accessibility and quality of the data. IT departments are now tasked with ensuring that the right information is available to the right users at the right time and in the right form, taking into account governance, risk, compliance and data quality issues. However, in order to achieve this it is crucial for the users to understand what their business problems and requirements are so that reports and analysis can be designed which will actively work towards solving these business problems.

Only once the business understands what it needs out of BI, will IT be able to ensure that the right data is supplied to achieve this aim. The data should not drive a BI implementation but rather business needs should drive the data that is used by BI tools to solve problems. This means that BI is no longer simply ‘an IT project’ but needs business to be heavily involved and should be driven from the top down.

Involving business in the BI process is increasingly important given the well documented data explosion, as it is becoming impossible to analyse every bit of data that exists. One of the common dangers of agile solutions that incorporate data discovery is the high potential for users to draw information from a variety of different data sets and sources, which will inevitably result in a confusion of different analyses and outcomes. It is therefore critical to select the right data for analysis to actively deliver value for business and address business needs and requirements.

Given the increased accessibility of BI tools, analysis and reporting are now closer than ever to the business user. However once again, all of the understanding and analysis in the world will simply fail to produce viable results if the answers drawn from the data are poor. The IT department’s role in BI has now shifted as a result, from being involved in the drawing of reports, which is now a business function, to the role of information lifecycle management, ensuring data integrity and availability for business users. IT needs the business to highlight what information is needed, to ensure that this data can then be made available in the right format at the right time.

Bridging the traditional disconnect between business and IT has never been more important. With buy-in from both sides and working in collaboration, IT and business can turn information into a strategic asset and use BI tools on the right data to deliver insights that will drive the business, improve agility and enhance competitive edge. The success of BI hinges on an integrated business/IT approach and the integrity and quality of data used.

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Data integrity at the source is critical to the success of BI implementations