Rule #1. Don't just jump into creating a hefty enterprise wide Business Intelligence (BI)

Business intelligence and its next iteration, systems of insight (SOI), have moved to the top of BI pros' agendas for enterprise software adoption. Investment in BI tools and applications can have a number of drivers, both external (such as regulatory requirements or technology obsolescence) and internal (such as the desire to improve processes or speed up decision-making). However, putting together a BI business case is not always a straightforward process. Before embarking on a BI business case endeavor, consider that:

  • You may not actually need a business case. Determining whether a BI business case is necessary includes three main considerations. Is it an investment that the organization must make to stay in business, should consider because other investments are changing the organization's IT landscape, or wants to make because of expected business benefits?
  • A business sponsor does not obviate the need for a business case. It may be tempting to conclude that you can skip making a business case for BI whenever there is a strong push for investment from the business side, in particular when budget holders are prepared to commit money. Resist this impulse whenever possible: The resulting project will likely suffer from a lack of focus, and recriminations are likely to follow sooner or later.
  • A staged approach to developing and building BI business cases usually works best. Focus first on "quick win" projects — projects that aren't complex and whose benefits you can easily articulate and measure. Once you successfully complete these practice runs and win credibility with your key business stakeholders, move on to more complex business cases, such as those involving top- or bottom-line benefits.

Rule #2 Don't develop a BI business case unless you have to

The catalyst for BI investment scenarios that don't require a business case tends to be an event external to the organization or a development outside of a department or business unit. The most typical scenarios are:

  • Compliance with regulations, legislation, or audit requirements. Compliance with government and industry regulations is not negotiable — it's a requirement for remaining in business. And just as email is the communication and collaboration lifeblood of any modern organization, BI is an integral, inseparable part of compliance and risk management. Collecting data and using BI infrastructure to turn it into information that supports regulatory reporting is a constant obligation and a struggle that organizations of all sizes, in all markets, and in all geographies must endure. The degree may vary, but the requirement remains.
  • Response to a technology ultimatum. This scenario can occur in a variety of permutations. For instance, a BI vendor may announce a deadline by which it will end support for the BI platform version you're using or sunset an application in favor of another product (notable recent examples include Oracle Hyperion Interactive Reporter and SAP NetWeaver BI tools, like BEx and others). Firms may also face a different type of technology ultimatum around infrastructure or hardware refreshes when their BI application version no longer runs — or is no longer certified to run — on their current installed database or servers.
  • Dependence on other enterprise initiatives. Technology choices from line-of-business (LOB) or cross-enterprise initiatives will require you to re-evaluate an incumbent BI platform. This frequently happens with global rollouts of ERP and CRM platforms, which come tightly embedded with BI packages.  Also, as more and more enterprises move their ERP, CRM, collaboration, office, and other applications to the cloud, many technology management pros will face pressure to move their BI platforms to the cloud, either fully or partially via hybrid solutions. Depending on the circumstances, a move to new software may be inevitable, and trying to construct a business case is an exercise in futility. If migration to different BI software is not a foregone conclusion, a basic cost/benefit analysis is a sensible next step, as it will quickly show whether it makes sense to stick with the existing or take the plunge with the new.

Rule #3 Take a deep breath before proceeding; instead, organize and prioritize

When your organization must make technology investments, you may see an opportunity to introduce more wide-ranging, strategic BI initiatives. Nevertheless, you should:

  • Resist the temptation to widen the scope too much. To maximize the chances of project success, you must maintain a laser-sharp focus on the "must-make" investment, regardless of its catalyst.
  • Seize the opportunity only if you're truly ready. The only exception to the above rule is if your organization is sufficiently mature to embark upon building a strategic business case, involving tangible benefits, while also making the technology and process choices necessary to deal with, for example, compliance requirements.

Rule #4 Follow a staged (from simple to complex) approach to show tangible benefits

As enterprise BI deployments proliferate and organizations gain more experience, Forrester sees fewer BI business cases rely on intangible benefits like "improved customer satisfaction" or "shorter decision-making cycles." Indeed, only 11% to 16% of the respondents to our Q4 2015 Global Business Intelligence Business Case Online Survey still build BI business cases based on intangible benefits, compared to 20% in 2013 (but this is holding steady compared to 2014's results of 12% to 14%). Intangible benefits are great, but it's often hard to sell BI initiatives without something more concrete. This is why we recommend the following staged approach:

  1. Follow a battle-proven ROI methodology like Forrester's TEI.
  2. Organize multiple BI business cases into distinct categories (cost savings versus top- and bottom-line benefits).
  3. Prioritize these business cases according to the degree of complexity and difficulty.
  4. Get your feet wet with the simplest cases (such as automating a manual process).
  5. Accumulate the lessons learned.
  6. Proceed to more difficult cases involving top- and bottom-line benefits.

For more details, best practices and more latest survey results please take a look at our March 1, 2016 Quantify The Tangible Value Of Your BI Investments report