This sponsored post is produced in association with SiSense.

Disorganization and chaos, scattered and large data sets. That’s often what gets companies thinking about investing in business intelligence (BI). If the points below seem familiar, that’s because they’re the most common indicators companies struggle with before establishing a need for an investment in BI. They include:

  1. Performing most reporting manually in Excel.
  2. Having an inability to access and make use of the data you’ve collected.
  3. Possessing a need for visualization of your data in real-time.
  4. Pulling from multiple data sources and dealing with the resulting chaos.

There are certainly more, but these alone usually tip the balance.

Establishing a need is a good first step, but from there you need to sit down and really think about what your specific needs are, how quickly you want or need the project completed, and what budget you’re working with. And since BI is most definitely an investment, it requires planning and budgeting – which can feel like a daunting task when you’re not sure where to start.

Getting Started: Establishing the Scope of a BI Project

The breadth of your BI project will depend largely on your needs and just how pressing those needs are. You might ask yourself questions like, “What departments need access to BI?” and “Do our clients need access to the reports we generate?” You’ll need to determine if your BI needs include just a department or two, or if they extend across the entire company. And if it’s the latter, will everyone get access at once, or will BI be rolled out over time?

Like with many things, there’s more than one way to approach a BI roll-out and employee/company involvement. Here are some of the common ways companies go about it:

  1. The Phase Approach: BI systems are launched within your company, department by department, until the entire company has access. This may extend to client access as well.
  2. Immediate Implementation: Your company is in critical care without BI and you need an effective system — this. very. second.urgently.
  3. Executive Dashboards: The BI project is limited to those at the C-level to offer a real-time look at how the company is doing.
  4. OEM, Embedding, and Whitelabeling: BI is added to a current software choice within your company to expand functionality.
  5. For Clients Only: Only end users are provided with BI tools to perform self-service reporting and provide your business the opportunity to illustrate KPIs and individual successes to clients.

Creating a Short List

While it might be tempting to pick the least expensive option available, it’s essential that the scope of your BI project be broad enough to help you achieve all of your goals — fully.

“BI strategy should include a broad set of processes, technologies, and stakeholders for collecting, integrating, accessing, and analyzing information for the purpose of helping enterprises make better business decisions,” according to LORIA, the Lorraine Research Laboratory in Computer Science and its Applications.

The scope should offer real solutions that let all those who must use it “adapt” to your current business needs—whatever they may be. Flexibility is important, too, with the capacity to work with “evolving sources of information.” Opt for a scope that is too narrow and you could see your BI strategy hit a roadblock a few years (or even months) down the road as data sources grow and your company requirements change. You should try and consider how much data you’ll have in the next 3 years.

Typical Timeline

Another vital consideration is how long it will take for your BI project to be implemented. Of course, the scope of the project will impact timelines quite a bit, but assuming you’re rolling out company-wide, it’s quite typical for implementation to take up to two quarters. In fact, when you factor in time to evaluate vendors, conduct POCs, and implement the product you’ve chosen, a timeline of 3-6 months is completely reasonable and provides both enough time do complete a thorough evaluation and implement a speedy resolution to your problems.

Cost Factors and Budgeting

One thing you need to keep in mind right away is the fact that cheap is expensive. If a BI solution is free, or costs less than $10K per year, there’s usually a catch either in development time or in the ownership rights attached to the code. Be wary of this. If you’re going to spend money on BI, you want to make sure you’re doing it right.

So, what can you reasonably expect to pay for a full-service solution? A quality BI solution can start at $10K per year and go into the hundreds of thousands. Here’s a good rule of thumb: initiating a BI project should initially cost around 1% of your annual operating budget and about a quarter of that in the years to come.

With these figures in mind, you can build a budget around the cost of evaluation, from project manager to implementation. You can likely base this on what it would cost you to employ a single in-house developer. That’ll typically give you a good ballpark figure to work with.

If that still seems daunting, think of it this way: there are no sick days or room for human error with a BI system; only a single source of truth and potential IT independence.

And if you’re still leery of spending this much on a BI solution, it’s important to keep the cost of not using data in mind. Direct costs include lower retention rates and diminished profits while indirect costs include things like decision delays and added staff time spent on developing alternative solutions. Even lost opportunities factor into the costs of not using data. So weigh these into the equation as you make your BI decisions.

So…think, plan, decide: maybe 2015 is the year to make the BI leap.

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