Uplifting BI Capability to Business Strategy


Uplifting the BI Capability to align with the Business StrategyIn this post, I’m looking at approaches to lift BI up from a mere enabling IT function to an enterprise strategic business function. This is an elaboration on discussions that were recorded in TDWI’s BI Journal, Vol 18 No 4 (http://tdwi.org/research/2013/12/business-intelligence-journal-vol-18-no-4.aspx), around aligning BI with business strategy. I have previously also published a post on how to measure the degree of BI alignment to business strategy (http://www.martinsights.com/?p=87).

Paint a picture

In most organisations, anyway where I have consulted, executives and business users often only have a very limited view of BI. Their view is often defined in terms of the (often static) set of reports that are produced from the data warehouse by the BI team. They are often not aware of the information hidden in the data warehouse. You need to illustrate how that information can assist the business in driving the existing business strategy, and in creating new business strategies. You need to paint a high-level picture of the “entire” data warehouse in business terms, and in terms of its potential delivery capability, so that the users can understand what information is available from an enterprise view.

This can be done through a bus matrix or a subject area matrix. Alternatively, you can also use storyboards, scenarios, design thinking and other creative approaches to illustrate the opportunities that exist for BI – and especially analytics – that may have a positive impact on the business. Examples include storyboards of the customer journey, the employee journey and so on.

In order to do this, you need to balance out the “business as usual” production reporting and other ad hoc informational needs with some exploratory data analysis. Every now and then, you need to throw a “did you know…?” discussion on the table, based on trends detected or additional analyses performed on the available data. You have to do some exploratory analysis to illustrate the potential value that can be unlocked.

Publish success stories

BI needs to proactively communicate its capabilities to the business. One of the best approaches is to publish success stories where BI has assisted in achieving or improving on the business strategy. You have to broadcast where the users’ business success was caused by the success of BI. Focus on the success of the business area and how it used information to achieve that, not on the technological wonderworks behind the scenes.

There are many forums through which this can be communicated – from pin-up boards, newsletters, information portals through to internal collaboration tools, bulletin boards and other social media.

Internal CRM

The BI team has for a long time already been a customer service department, and should act like one. You need to know your best customers – those that have a need and are willing to work with the BI team to get business results – and look after them. You should assist them with additional support and pay careful attention to their requirements and feedback. Build relationships with those particular business decision makers to ensure their requests are heard and their expectations and priorities are met.

One manner in which to approach this is to make sure that the business analysts as well as the technical staff in the BI team understand the business. They need to know what the underlying data means to the business, as well as what information is required to enable the business. This cross pollination can be orchestrated through induction sessions, other forms of information sharing and even getting the BI team members to shadow the business users during their work day. Through shadowing, they can often spot opportunities where better information can be used to improve the business processes or the management thereof. Business representatives can also be seconded or co-opted into the BI team while active work is being done on the collection and delivery of their data.

Bottom line is, you should encourage and reward customer-focused behaviour. Some of this can even be managed through the organisation’s CRM tools.

Make BI business accessible

The BI team should make an effort to ensure that information is accessible and consumable by the business.

There are a number of approaches through which to do this. Some of them quite simple – have “human readable” documented data models, use business terms for table and column names, have descriptive business metadata readily available and linked, and so forth.

Even better is when BI builds, maintains and utilises a business layer to make the information more accessible for the business users. This is often called a semantic layer by the BI tool vendors. In this process it is really important to co-opt knowledgeable staff from the business into the BI team to ensure that the definition of the semantic layer is an accurate representation of the business.

Involve the business

To ensure success in the long term, the BI team needs to define a process that ensures business ownership, support and participation.

The BI team management should partner with key executives in the business to create a BI governance program or a BI steering committee comprised of business leaders whose mission is to manage and support a business-driven development and implementation approach. This is typically done by translating broad strategic initiatives into a discrete set of measures:

  1. Clearly articulate business strategies
  2. Deconstruct the strategies into a set of goals and objectives
  3. Identify the core measures or key performance indicators (KPIs) for each goal and objective
  4. Determine the dimensions from which the KPIs need to be analysed
  5. Prioritize the list of measures
  6. Create a delivery road map and release a plan based on the priorities
  7. Estimate the level of funding needed to deliver each part of the road map
  8. Provide a continuous funding vehicle for the BI team
  9. Continuously assess and adjust the priorities based on business results and shifting goals

The BI governance program must create a level of specificity that the BI team can identify with and support through an aligned delivery model. On a more detailed level, the BI team must interact with the business users to determine the ways in which the information is to be consumed (timing, frequency, timeliness, form and format, etc.) and deliver on that.


On the BI and analytics journey, it is important to define an overarching strategy that can help deliver BI capabilities that align with and support the implementation of the business strategy.

The BI strategy must specify the long term plan of choices:

  • How BI can assist the organisation to support its business strategy, to achieve its goals, while taking the anticipated environment into account
  • How BI can provide the required information for the staff  to operate the business effectively
  • How to make the best and most cost effective use of BI technology and best practices to improve BI’s implementation and deployment
  • How to handle the ever-changing business and technology landscape through effective change management

BI needs a strategy to map out the road to take it from an ad hoc reporting solution to an enterprise wide business enabling capability.


We have covered a number of practical approaches to uplift BI from a technological capability to a key business enabler.  The practices discussed in this post will help to create a harmonious alignment between the business and the BI team. These practices will help to change the BI team’s role from data geeks to valued business partners.

I have indicated in a number of these points that communication is crucial. Almost all these approaches have a communicative component – paint a picture, sell a success story, do internal CRM, and so forth. In order to do this, the management, business analysts and even the technical staff in the BI team must be fluent in the business language and be able to participate in the communication processes.

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