7 Ways to Remain Relevant for Business Intelligence in 2010

This year, while saying “Happy New Year!”, I was also thinking “Good riddance!”. Face it, the year was a really rough one for many of you Dashboard Spy readers. Corporate earnings were horrible, revenues fell off a cliff, I.T. budgets got slashed, and many, many smart, hardworking people were downsized.

I personally attended goodbye lunch after goodbye lunch. The only good thing about them was the drinking!

Things were so bad in 2009, that even staffers on business intelligence related projects – previously thought to be resistant to cancellation – also lost their jobs.

Well, hang tight in 2010. While I can’t promise that things will turn around for your company, I can say that there are very specific steps you can take to make sure you remain a relevant, invaluable team member on business intelligence projects.

Here are my top 7 tips.

1. LEARN ALL YOU CAN ABOUT DASHBOARDS. I remain firmly committed to the idea that the dashboard design pattern is the optimal interface to all business intelligence applications. There is nothing like the “at-a-glance” nature of the dashboard to provide users with the smorgashboard of information they need to do their daily jobs. Dashboards have reached a critical mass. Why even President Obama uses an I.T. project dashboard to make sure that federal government I.T. spending is not out of control.

2. BE THE FIRST TO APPLY SUCCESSFUL SOLUTIONS FROM OTHER DOMAINS TO YOUR PROBLEM SPACE. There is no easier way to show your value in your enterprise than to be an innovator. In today’s economic climate, however, it doesn’t pay to take risks. Check out this clever, risk-free approach – look for things that are creating a splash in other domains, evaluate them to make sure they will add value in your space, and then be the first to introduce the technique. You will look like a hero. What do I mean? Look around in the web 2.0 space or the social media arena and identify innovative things there that you can suggest for your business intelligence application. As an example, perhaps your dashboard application would benefit from a “most popular metrics” section with KPIs voted upon by your community. As another example, look at http://klipfolio.com to see how business dashboards can be shown in a very innovative way by using the desktop widget approach.

3. KNOW YOUR COMPANY’S KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS. The easiest way to become familiar with the top issues across your enterprise is to learn each department’s metrics. By identifying the KPIs and then decomposing them into their constituent parts, you learn what makes your enterprise tick. I recommend this approach to everyone, but especially people new to a company or a department within an enterprise.

4. PUT YOUR USERS FIRST. Become the user champion within your project group. Everyone pays lip service to user requirements, but learn the principles of user-centric design and really embrace the user. Insist on plenty of mockups and hold frequent walk-throughs with lots of users. The success of your business intelligence project lies with the perception of your user community. Make them an early part of your development process and get early buy-in. There is no reason for waterfall methodologies in today’s environment. Your users demand a more agile approach. Give it to them.

5. UNDERSTAND THAT INFORMATION VISUALIZATION IS A SCIENCE. Turning data into information is difficult. Turning information into a format that your users can easily understand is even more difficult. Understand the need for true expertise in data visualization. Don’t just slap pie charts all over your dashboards and applications. Find an expert or start studying the subtle do’s and don’t of information visualization. Not only can poor data visualization practices aggravate your users, it can cause wrong decisions to be made based on misleading cues in your application.

6. DON’T GO IT ALONE – WE ARE A COMMUNITY! Long gone are the days of solo practitioners trailblazing their way through early business intelligence techniques and technologies. Business intelligence and dashboarding resources abound these days. Learn from your fellow B.I. experts the best practices that will ensure the success of your project. Start with http://dashboardspy.com/experts and http://enterprise-dashboard.com.

7. REVISIT YOUR BUY VERSUS BUILD ANALYSIS. It’s not a cut and dried decision. Many excellent arguments exist for buying a business dashboard package off the shelf, building your dashboard application, or taking a hybrid approach where you combine the best of both worlds and customize an existing product. With the economy the way it is, and the prevalence of outsourcing, you can get great value when it comes to hiring talent. Advances in user interface programming allow for easy creation of compelling UI elements into your application. Of course, on the other hand, the off-the-shelf business intelligence dashboard and reporting packages are stronger than ever. What I’m saying is that at the start of this new year, you shouldn’t take any of your past decisions for granted. Revisit everything in light of our current situation and make the appropriate decisions.

A very happy new year from Hubert Lee, The Dashboard Spy!