Looking Ahead: More Data, More Details – Less Work?

As companies grow, so do the demands on their Sales Operations and Marketing Research teams.  As new products are launched and sales forces grow, BI managers need to answer ever more questions from ever more people about ever more data and ever more details.  The “working smarter” solution to deal with this increasing demand usually involves new skills or new technology or additional resources – and the time and resources needed to implement them.

Working smarter can be accomplished by

  • Streamlining processes
  • Automating routine tasks
  • Reducing errors
  • Letting go of less important tasks
  • Finding someone with the right skills to do the job.

In this article we will take a look at how to meet increasing demands without simply doing more work.

Streamlining Processes

Most of us easily recognize this scenario: a BI manager is asked to provide a “quick analysis” to answer a burning business question.  Sometime later the manager is asked to update the results of this “quick analysis” and before you know it the one-time “quick analysis” turns into a regular report.

Chances are good that the manager initially did not worry too much about how efficiently the analysis was done, as long as the results could be delivered quickly.  Chances are equally good, that the process for performing this “quick analysis” can be streamlined to consume less time and resources.

Some ways in which we can streamline processes include:

  • Having data in a more useful format
  • Pre-calculating certain results and storing them where they can be easily retrieved
  • Employing technologies like dashboards and pivot tables to quickly retrieve different views of the data.

If the requested analysis requires significant effort, one should also review the entire process from data collection to processing to producing output.  Chances are good that some tasks in that process can be done more efficiently or that by reorganizing the process itself we can save time and effort.  If certain tasks have to be repeated over and over again they become a candidate for automation.

Automating Routine Tasks

Our article about comparing a product against competitors with multiple indications provides an excellent case study for automating routine tasks.  In that scenario, product units have to be converted into more useful information, taking into account how and where products are used.  To account for all this, raw units have to be factored each time new unit data becomes available – a tedious task which is also prone to human error.

Unlike humans, computers excel at processing routine and tedious tasks, so why not give them that job?

Reducing Errors

The more critical the information, the more questions will be asked.  This axiom lies at the root of many BI headaches and its impact snowballs when errors occur.  Each error we find chips away at the level of trust we have in the information.  As BI managers we need to provide the most accurate information we can, given the resources at our disposal.

Automation represents one way in which to reduce errors, but we can do more.  Spot checking, quality control steps like tying out sub-totals and checking whether the results “make sense” should be an integral part of every information delivery.  Even better, we usually can automate some of these QC steps.

Letting go of less important tasks

The article “Making Time For The Future” addresses this topic in more detail.  Suffice it to say here that letting go of less important tasks allows us to spend more time on the more important ones.

Finding someone with the right skills to do the job.

This brings us to the last item on this list: to get all of this done, we sometimes have to look for someone else to do the job – either because we do not have the time or the necessary skills.  This raises questions like:

  • Can we afford additional headcount or a consultant?
  • Is this a long term need or a short term need?
  • What exactly should this person do?
  • What skills, knowledge and experience do they need to bring to the table?

Answers to these questions depend on many factors, including:

  • Budget
  • Expected growth of the organization
  • To what extent the BI department wishes to combine business skills with IT skills
  • Which skills are already available in house
  • Whether the organization prefers to do all the work in-house or work with external partners
  • Whether the right person can be hired as an employee or a consultant.

The Bottom Line

Successful organizations will require ever more complex information to stay competitive.  As the industry changes and sales reps need to blend more and more sales, medical science and account management skills, we have to integrate data from ever more sources.  While technologies like dashboards make the presentation of information easier, we are still faced with the tricky task of determining which information needs to be available when and to whom.

This article provides some ideas about how to meet these increasing demands without simply doing more work. It is the second in a three-part series of articles looking at Three Steps To A Better BI Future. In the last article we will take a closer look at how to provide the right information to the right people at the right time.

The three articles in this series are:

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