Business Intelligence (BI) is critical to growing companies and increasing competitive advantage. However, benefiting from BI requires more than just implementing the technology. According to Boris Evelson, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, ensuring the right processes and staffing is equally essential. Here are five critical elements of any successful BI strategy.

1. Put BI tools in the hands of business users

Boris Evelson believes that “the business should absolutely rule” and adds, “organizations that put BI in the hands of business users are more successful than those that limit BI to IT.” It’s hard to disagree with his words. While the complexity of early BI technologies meant that IT departments were responsible for running BI programs, today’s tools are more intuitive, putting them right in the hands of business users. The need for real-time access to information is also influencing this workflow. Generating reports by the IT department is certainly not conducive to smooth work and reduces the efficiency of processes. Therefore, the emphasis on the availability of BI tools for business users should be significant.

2. Verify the usage of BI Tools

Modern BI tools offer a lot of options. However, when implementing them in a company, the main focus should be on those that bring real value to the business – simplifying processes, reducing the time needed to perform analyses, or avoiding errors in their interpretation.

For example, if a BI tool collects sales data but does not consider the number of returned products, the final data will not be reliable. It is, therefore, necessary to be precise and validate the actions performed for the implemented BI solutions to bring tangible benefits.

3. Focus on business problems first, data second

Evelson warns that BI initiatives should not be approached with a “build it and they will come” reasoning. Too many organizations create data repositories, overlay BI on top of them, and expect business users to get to work and use them immediately. Meanwhile, the order of operations should be different. First, identify the problem and define it. Then select the metrics, access the data needed to calculate them, and try to solve the problem.

4. Prioritize and implement improvement processes

According to industry leaders, an effective BI strategy involves both growth and improvement. First, companies and organizations should know what business intelligence they need and which information is most important. Then IT can deliver what matters at most and then move on to a list of optional enhancements.

Equally important, the BI program should be able to change with the evaluation of priorities and follow the needs of business users. An iterative approach works well in this context.

5. Encourage employees to tell stories with data

Implementing an effective BI strategy is also about looking into the data and using it to tell stories that help others understand what it is trying to say. Employees who can use the reporting and visualization features built into BI technologies to create narratives help maximize the value of analytics. This approach isn’t just about having people on your team who create nice-looking reports. The key is to make connections to data that others may not see, thus offering new insights that companies can use to drive profits.