Tips on Conducting a Needs Assessment Before Deploying Business Intelligence (BI) Technology

Business Intelligence (BI) is a collection of powerful performance management tools that help enterprises gather, coordinate, and transform data into knowledge efficiently. Properly deployed, BI promises timely insight into seemingly disparate information. It supports objectivity in business decision-making.
However, the success of BI adoption depends critically on how well the product fits the needs of an enterprise. In addition to product research and brand comparisons, it is important to conduct an internal assessment of related enterprise processes. This article suggests some tips on how to conduct a needs assessment before the acquisition of BI technology.
A needs assessment involves a detailed checklist of how an enterprise collects and uses data in order to identify a possible role for BI. The following are some questions that might reveal pertinent characteristics to inform the best choice of BI product:

1.   Does the enterprise collect large amounts of transactional and operational data from multiple departments, markets, and geographical locations?
2.   Are the enterprise data integration and analytical processes getting complicated without providing a corresponding enhancement in information value?
3.   Is it currently difficult to see, quickly, how enterprise data from multiple sources are related?
4.   Is there a growing problem with tracking internal operational trends and assessing contributing factors?
5.   Is there a need for a simpler approach to handling regulatory compliance requirements, customer relations, reporting obligations, including audits, accountability, invoices, and inventory tracking?
6.   Is there a need to improve information sharing by being able to integrate, slice and dice data from multiple internal and related external sources?
The outcome of such an objective evaluation of current enterprise data management and anticipated needs is important in the choice of appropriate BI product and vendor.
It makes business sense to invest in a product with a solid track record and a potential for longevity. A good place to continue the research on current industry standards for BI is through comparing the products of the following developers:

1.   IBM – Cognos
2.   Oracle – Hyperion
3.   Microsoft
4.   MicroStrategy
5.   SAP Business Objects
6.   SPSS
A thorough needs assessment is one way to improve the returns on business intelligence investment. BI tools promise to transform the efficiency and objectivity of business decisions. However, realizing these benefits hinges on how well the chosen BI product fits the needs of the enterprise.