Business Intelligence  |  Data Warehousing  |  Data Integration

Marketing BI Solutions to the Business

by Rick Sherman

Originally published in Information Management on December 2006.

Technical people often think that delivering great solutions is the key to satisfying business users. It is not. Delivering the solution users want is the key. Understanding their needs and ensuring they are getting what they truly desire requires something that most technical people shy away from - marketing.

No matter how much business users participate in your project, they won't all be aware of or may forget the time involved in ensuring data consistency and integrity. You need to market what was done, who was involved and summarize the complexity of the tasks so nontechnical people are not overwhelmed by the details. The data warehouse (DW) group needs to know its message and keep telling the business. And just as any marketing campaign targets its audience, the DW group needs to have a campaign for its different audiences. These audiences can be split by management and analysts as well as by different business groups or functions.

Choose Effective Channels

How do you make an impact on the business users? Presentations and discussions should be at the top of your list. Users and managers can ask questions and provide immediate feedback, while you can address their concerns on the spot. Formal meetings are a start, but ongoing follow-up and one-on-one discussions may uncover even more issues and concerns on their minds.

Educate While You Market

Internal marketing is an opportunity to teach business users what reports and data are available and what they mean. A portal can be the most effective way to present this information, although at first your only audience may be the power users. It is your job to help business users find the information they need by sending them emails linking to key documents in the portal and engaging in follow-up meetings. Got a new report on the portal? Email the masses.

What to put on the portal? Start with a one to two-page high-level overview and move to the more detailed items such as white papers. You may need to follow up to ensure people are reading the material and getting what they need.

Learn from Experience

Case studies are your secret weapon. You've seen vendors do it; you can, too. The data warehouse group should write a few paragraphs about business users successfully using the DW or business intelligence (BI) system. Then, they should take them on the road to presentations and more informal meetings to create excitement and promote understanding of the business potential of the DW/BI.

Don't Underestimate the Competition

Is there competition for your business users? You better believe it. They are getting marketing messages and sales calls from outside vendors and internal groups for DW/BI projects and other projects or technologies that promise information nirvana.

Enterprise applications, corporate performance management systems, enterprise search engines, software as a service and even service-oriented architecture vendors promise to deliver business information with nothing more than a quick and painless installation of their software. Meanwhile, you are selling business users on data governance and data integrity, along with the time-consuming efforts those entail. It is like convincing a child to eat vegetables. No wonder you need internal marketing.

Set realistic expectations. Ensure that users understand the bad (it takes time and effort to get the data consistent with integrity) but have been sold on the good (the efforts are paying off with data they can trust).

Just because you have sponsorship and funding now, don't slack off when it comes to marketing to your customers (business users). You can bet the vendors with competing solutions are not resting. These competing solutions are not only seen in sales calls and advertising, but also in published articles, conferences and seminars.

Internal marketing is not just about being defensive against the business users buying a "silver bullet" from a vendor that will sabotage your efforts. More importantly, internal marketing is needed to truly generate the excitement and exposure to expand your DW/BI solution from a small group of businesspeople using the solution to a much broader audience. Pervasive BI will be the result of good solutions that are marketed to the business. After all, isn't the purpose of the BI solution to get information into the hands of the business so they can manage and improve your enterprise's performance?

You've spent a lot of time creating the best technical and data solutions you can. Now it is time to market it so it is used to help the business group finally get the ROI it is looking for.