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Seven steps to integrate data and consolidate your business view

May 06, 2020

Click here to read part 1: Making tough decisions during COVID-19: How consolidating your business view can help

How long does it take your business to turn data into insights?

As we said in part 1, the main challenge of using the massive amounts of data a business collects is consolidating it so that: 1) the data-preparation process can be automated and 2) leaders can gain insights from it faster and easier.

We went over the benefits of a consolidated business view, but how do you get there? And can you take action now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Having a consolidated business view is more important than ever in navigating the impact of the coronavirus, so taking action now is critical. These seven steps will help you get started with data integration and know how to cross the finish line.

1. Understand the business metrics that actually matter

The first step is understanding which of your metrics are most important in allowing you to make effective business decisions. There are many key performance indicators (KPIs) businesses can track, but if individuals can’t move the needle on them, is tracking them worth the effort?

Taking your KPIs through a prioritization exercise will help you understand which metrics are “nice to know” and which are “need to know.”

During this COVID-19 crisis, an example of a “nice to know” would be using external data sets to identify target markets. A “need to know” would be understanding how many weeks you can pay expenses with cash reserves if your business were to shut down tomorrow.

2. Identify the data sources that support these key metrics

Once you know what data you want to use, you must then understand where it comes from.

Can you connect directly to your ERP system for quality information, or are there datapoints that need to be created or cleansed manually?

A consolidated business view requires quality data, but waiting for 100% perfect data will slow you down. Luckily, you don’t need to get 100% there in order to gain a consolidated business view. The primary objective in times of crisis like we’re experiencing now is the ability to make decisions based on conceptional and directional datapoints. In other words, save your audited financials for your financial system. A quick-start consolidated business view must start with consolidating the data that really matters.

3. Connect your data to a cloud-based business intelligence platform

The sole purpose of a business intelligence (BI) platform is to consolidate and then visualize data. A cloud-based BI platform has many benefits, including allowing you to get started much faster than if you had to set up servers and implement an on-premises solution.

Note that modern BI tools are extremely flexible in design, and a perfect wireframe is going to take more time than it is worth, so don’t waste time perfecting a dashboard design before connecting to your data. Once your data is connected, you can start working with it and determining the most impactful way to visualize it for your organization’s leadership.

Click here to learn more about different BI platforms on the market.

4. Use self-service functionality to create one source of truth

During the COVID-19 crisis, decision-makers are more siloed than ever before because they’re working from home. Yet the business relies on them to make decisions and to make them confident they’re based off of correct facts and metrics.

Having one source of truth for metrics means everyone sees the same numbers. No one is relying on one person in one department to manually put together a specific report, which may look different from a similar report put together in another department. All the data is in one place, ensuring not only that the numbers are accurate but also that leaders are looking at the same numbers.

The self-service functionality aspect comes in with KPIs and visualization. We recommend making KPIs obvious and using colors to do so. For example, you could color KPIs in red, yellow and green depending on defined baselines, making it obvious to your end users where they need to focus their efforts to move the needle.

During COVID-19, assume you won’t be able to implement a best-practice change management plan when you roll out the dashboard. Because individuals are busy and you are trying to minimalize the number of dependencies to getting your BI platform rolled out, you want it to be as easy to use as possible. The more you can embed instructions, information or tooltips into the platform, or design your visuals and tabs to follow a path of “natural analytics,” the more quickly end users will adopt the tool. People will simply take action instead of questioning how a metric was calculated.

5. Make numbers visible to your workforce

Leaders primarily need access to the BI platform to view metrics and insights, but it’s important to celebrate business wins and illustrate company security, especially during this pandemic where uncertainty lingers in the back of each employee’s mind.

This is the time to consider how much more transparent you can be. Show them you still have orders coming through the door or new clients coming on board. And if you do have to take an action like cutting 401(k) matches, show them that numbers indicate you likely won’t have to cut take-home pay.

When you can show them numbers or tell stories using data and celebrating wins, you can give them the reassurance that’s critical during this time.

6. Reassess data-collection and reporting responsibilities

Once you’re up and running with your BI platform, you have the opportunity to redirect staff who were formally responsible for manually building reports into performing more value-added activities. This will allow them to step into more fulfilling responsibilities and focus on core business priorities, or fill in for those absent because of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 is creating so much uncertainty that business continuity itself is in question. By leveraging a BI platform to automate the data-preparation exercise, your company can ensure timely metrics are always available and not reliant on any one person.

7. Re-evaluate or create your cloud strategy

Lastly, a BI platform gives your business the opportunity to dive into a deeper cloud strategy. Migrating other systems to the cloud can streamline many data-entry processes, decrease costs, make it easier to receive updates, and enable remote work by not relying on an on-premises system. Plus, many systems have the potential to integrate with your chosen BI platform, making it even easier to put data into one place and gain insights.

Getting started with data integration and consolidated business view

Leveraging analytics can support your efforts to keep your business as strong as possible while weathering current challenges, as well as those that lie ahead.

If you’d like to learn more about business intelligence solutions, click here. Wipfli can help you select the right platform based on your data and your needs, get it up and running and work through the challenges of COVID-19.

Need more help with COVID-19 issues?

We’re here to help you navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on your people, finances and business. We have developed a library of resources in our COVID-19 resource center to help you stabilize today and prepare for tomorrow. We also have solutions that can help you manage your people strategy, operations, business finances and technology.

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Kate E. Brown
Senior Manager, Technology
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