How and What to Measure
Wojewodka believes the reason for the growth is simple: Once businesses start getting answers to their questions, they start asking more questions. "There's an insatiable appetite for more information and analytics," he says. "It feeds upon itself."
But as Del Monte found, just buying business intelligence tools doesn't mean your business will be smarter. Getting data to mean something useful to the business remains a challenge even now, more than 30 years after the seminal BI tool, the spreadsheet, hit the corporate desk. In part, that can be a problem of presentation, as Wojewodka found when he realized that his BI tools were telling people only what had happened in the business, but not why.
A more fundamental problem comes from the data itself, says Purdue's McCartney. "The dashboard is only as good as the data that's underneath it. If it's dodgy or ill-defined, when you get department-level people poking at data mines you end up with 'dueling reports,' " he cautions.
But getting well-defined data can be a minefield for CIOs. At Purdue, for instance, good data can help administrators by letting them respond when a class fills quickly, by setting up new sections. This could mean finding extra teachers and increasing a textbook order, tracking inflow and outflow of funds, and parsing the student body. But at Purdue, simply defining whether Nebraska is in the Midwest
can spark heated debate.
That's one reason the university took almost three years to plan its current $73 million SAP project, designed in part to give the university better reporting and analytics, for which it plans to begin by using the BI tools built into their new SAP system. Right now, most of the school's business intelligence is done with spreadsheets, via batch processes, or even with plain old pencil and paper. McCartney says these methods are simply too slow in the Internet era. "We're not just upgrading our software. We're looking at our entire business process," he says. Figuring out what needs to be measuredand how to measure itis a basic challenge for any organization that wants to have better insight into its business.
And, McCartney notes, it's important to get it right. "Let's be clear about this: Once the troops know the boss is looking at eight different measures, or 20 different measures, they'll be engineering stuff to maximize those measures, so they'd better be good ones."