A much touted benefit of business intelligence software is the ability to function as the system of record, to be the software that delivers the numbers that nobody can contest. This requires a combination of a technically astute BI/DW team, an effective data governance committee and reliable data cleanup business processes. In many organizations it is assumed that trust in the data will inspire widespread use of reports and dashboards as key management tools. However, in order for the business benefits to be realized, to really use BI to drive revenue growth and improve operational efficiency, the single version of the truth needs to be delivered every single day.
A daily single version of the truth is not just a report containing figures upon which everyone agrees. It is a set of numbers condensed into an easy to consume and visually appealing format that presents the key measures that are driving the business. The metrics will vary depending on the industry and management style, but examples are bookings, goods delivered, revenue run-rate, cash burn, customers served, etc., for a few different time periods (daily, month to date, year to date), perhaps also alongside the variance from forecasted amounts. As the report can be automatically generated and published, it can be delivered every single day without incurring additional costs. This is not a dashboard with hundreds of metrics, but a handful of key tables and graphs that represent what really moves the business forward. The links are there to drill down into further details if necessary, but deeper analysis is a separate activity. The daily single version of the truth is designed to be consumed quickly on a smartphone or tablet, and keeps the management team focused on the key metrics that are on the path to achieving the primary business goals.
The daily version of the truth ensures that every executive, manager and their staff are looking at the same numbers every time they discuss the numbers. In the absence of an accessible reporting tool and relevant data, managers will implement their own spreadsheet or paper based systems to fill the void. However, as these systems evolve, they deviate from the numbers from other divisions and the aggregated corporate financial figures become an abstract construct detached from regular business activities. Worse, there are usually labour intensive manual processes behind putting together these reports, meaning that the data is compiled and analyzed less often, the calculations are error prone and employees are distracted from higher value activities.
- Everyone faces the truth of the same numbers, good or bad
- Changes in the business environment become apparent to everyone sooner
- Resources and budgets can be reallocated based on evidence of shifting conditions or customer trends
- Executives and managers can keep their fingers on the pulse of the business while traveling
- Managers and staff know which activities they need to focus on to actually make a difference to the business
- This demands executive sponsorship at the top level
- Not all corporate cultures can support this level of transparency
- Regulatory or legal barriers might exist to disseminating data
- Requires a commitment to simplicity and resisting the temptation to over-engineer the BI system
There are many other scenarios where BI can assist in overcoming business challenges, but delivering a daily single version of the truth can be transformative for an organization. Putting this into practice does not require bleeding edge software or complicated data science. It is using the data that you already have in a simplified format, delivering it daily and making better business decisions as a result.
Has a single version of the truth made a difference in your organization?
David Currie has been helping businesses get the most out Cognos Business Intelligence software since 1999, first as a Cognos employee and since 2008 as an independent consultant. He develops the solution architecture to satisfy complex business reporting and analytics requirements, sourcing data from operational databases, data warehouses and now big data repositories. He blogs about business intelligence and big data at davidpcurrie.com. Connect with him through the blog, LinkedIn or Twitter.