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Developing A Business Intelligence Blueprint


Once the BI business requirements have been collected, they are used to conceptualise how BI can impact the business in each area. This is done by expanding on the information and collating it in a BI Blueprint. This blueprint can then be used to evaluate individual business areas in the final stage of identifying BI opportunities.

The following guidelines outline the process for sharing and collecting ideas from other people in the organization:

 

  1. Brainstorm ideas - on how BI can be used
  2. Identifying business questions - gaining more detail on requirements and information needed
  3. Preparing a BI Blueprint - Organising the information to prepare for evaluation

 

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a methodology used with a group of people generate and evaluate ideas and develop broad concepts. In the case of our BI program, it is used to further explore BI opportunities by reviewing in more detail which business processes can best benefit from business intelligence and what types of information can help them improve these processes.

The goal of the brainstorming session is to develop a further list of business questions and agree the important measures and dimensions. This is usually achieved over one or more brainstorming sessions, such that ideas are generated in one session, and evaluation of those ideas in subsequent sessions.

Define the Brainstorming Team

The brainstorming team should include business users, analysts, and managers from the functional area under review. Any super-users of any information-driven processes of the area must be included to provide detail on current processes and data sources.

When exploring cross-functional opportunities, invite participants from each area. Also include a financial analyst who understands accounting and cost-system sources.

As this stage of BI opportuntity identification is purely business driven, IT is not necessary, but does offer perspective and help IT better align with business needs. It is important however, that the IT representative does not constrain ideas or discussion based on current IT constraints such as the availability of certain data or how and when the data extraction process might work. The IT evaluation takes place at a later stage, once BI design concepts are being proposed.

Managing Ideas In a Brainstorming Session

Each brainstorming session requires a facilitator to:

  • Ensure attendees understand the rules of brainstorming
  • To record ideas and questions
  • To keep discussion within the scope
  • To manage time and participation.

Using large sticky notes to document the brainstorming session is an effective tool. These provide a quick, visual snapshot of group discussions and can be placed on the wall of an office or conference room to remind participants of what was said and document key information for later documentation. Due to their mobility, they also help organize ideas in terms of grouping and relationships of various information requirements.

Identifying Business Questions

The second step is asking questions without worrying about the answers. Users pose typical questions they ask during normal daily activity. This helps to identify the business information required, and gains more insight into the best measures and dimensions. For instance:

  1. Which product lines are generating the highest margin in Area A?
  2. Why do we get more support calls from the West Coast than other regions?
  3. Who are the top sales representatives in Area C?
  4. When was the last time we saw this surprising pattern in product X sales?
  5. Why are sales so low in Area B this month?
  6. What is the forecast for sales in France?
  7. What were the sales in France last month? In the same month a year ago?
  8. What products are the biggest sellers in France?

Once you have a complete list of "What" questions, they can each be expanded into "Why" sub-questions.

The phrasing of questions provides important clues about measures and dimensions.

Documenting Questions

To document questions and sub-questions:

  1. Write the question at the top of a sticky note. Use only one sticky note per question.
  2. Number the sticky notes sequentially and place them in order as they arise in the functional process.
  3. For cross-functional opportunities, use different-colored sticky notes for each department

 

Organising Information Requirements

Once questions are documented, these can be translated into specifications for measures and dimensions. This is done by the brainstorming group by posing ideas on what information is needed to answer each of the questions.

There are three steps to this process:

  1. Discussing the requirements within the group
  2. Assessing current reports - accepting that current reports generally do NOT provide all the information required, but they do help generate ideas
  3. Using a sticky note or whiteboard to sketch new sample reports

Facilitation

Under each question [on the sticky note] the facilitator should write the measures and then write the dimensions below, connecting each with the word by.

Then, for each dimension add in parentheses the lowest level of detail likely required for answering the questions within the dimension area.

For example, for question 1 above,

  • #1 Which as the most profitable product line in Area A?
  • Measures = revenue and cost data
  • Dimensions = area [Zone], time [week]

Note that more than one dimension is added, in spite of only "area' being referred to in the question.

 

Creating A BI Blueprint

In the final step of the brainstorming process, all the information contained in the sticky notes is collated into a BI blueprint.

The BI blueprint documents the measures and dimensions for answering business questions and reflects the most fundamental requirements for building BI solutions.

The columns of the blueprint, document dimension names.

The rows identify the sticky note reference number and measures.

The intersection of dimension and measure records the lowest level of detail for that dimension. If a dimension does not apply to a measure, enter NA (not applicable) in the cell.

 

# Measure Product Area Customer Sales Rep Call Class Time
1 unit sales product # region NA NA NA month
1 amount sales product # region NA NA NA month
1 cost product # region NA NA NA month
1 margin product # region NA NA NA month
2 # calls product # district cust ID NA level 1 day
2 call length product # district cust ID NA level 1 day
3 unit sales product # district cust ID rep ID NA week
3 amount sales product # district cust ID rep ID NA week
3 unit orders product # district cust ID rep ID NA week
3 amount orders product # district cust ID rep ID NA week
3 commission product # district cust ID rep ID NA week

 

This completes the brainstorming session [sessions] and has prepared the business requirements in a format that provides for easier evaluation of BI potential value.

NEXT: Evalutaing BI Alternatives

 

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