Using business intelligence to make better business decisions

Members of the CIO Executive Council weigh in on using BI to make an impact on the business. Add your opinion and advice below.

An exclusive series by the CIO Executive Council


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Murat Mendi, CIO, Nobel Ilac (See profile)

Right now, my IT team operates, and is viewed by the business, as purely an operational function. I am pushing the organization to take a more strategic role in driving business goals forward. One way that we are doing this is by heading up a data mining/business intelligence program to help sales reps and executives make better business decisions. As a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Turkey, we have data coming at us from all directions – things like sales numbers, pricing, doctor's visits, product bar codes, government regulations, and results from specific marketing campaigns. We need to find a way to organize, track and analyze this information to have an edge on our competition and make IT a strategic partner in the company. This new reporting functionality, to be rolled out by the end of 2011, will provide enhanced capability for the 1,000 sales reps and other senior leaders to track sales, gauge the success of promotional activities, and analyze actions our competitors are taking.

We have to understand how the sales reps operate in the field, what kind of information they typically collect, and how decisions are made. Securing their buy-in and trust is key, and showcasing a few quick wins will be important for us to demonstrate that we are a partner, not the enemy. We have incorporated a few members of the sales team onto the project team already. Identifying data structures is another priority. Right now, we have data from many internal and external sources which is unstructured and stored in separate silos. Integration of this information will enable company leaders to analyze trends and track correlation, which will have a big influence on business decisions like targeting new markets to enter. Since our sales reps are constantly out in the field visiting doctor's offices, I’m also looking to enhance the existing mobile functionality as part of this business intelligence program. The most difficult aspect of the project for my team right now is incorporating the right level of agility. The Turkish government is very involved in the pharma sector and there are many regulations we have to follow throughout the lifecycle of a drug, from the production phase all the way to consumption by the patient. These requirements are ever-changing and it's crucial to our business that we remain responsive and up-to-date.

Sounding Board's Discussion Points:

User adoption – Data structures – Mobility – Government regulations
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Leonard Law, CIO, W. P. Carey (See profile)

Focus on business user adoption

We’ve recently completed a significant BI initiative to help the company scale quickly, undertake more complex real estate deals and improve productivity without increasing headcount. I worked alongside the CAO and CFO to sell the project to the CEO and board. This top-down approach to buy-in works well coupled with a viral, grassroots movement. Quick wins are key to maintaining momentum. My advice is to focus on tangible benefits: put a stake in the ground, get a win, and then grow from there.

My business peers are critical sponsors: At the end of the day, I can build beautiful technology, but if it’s not being used it’s value-less. I started small with proof of concept, and my goal was to use business champions to spread the benefits of the project at the grassroots level. We already had a strong super-user community in place at W. P. Carey, which was very helpful. We find this community by continuously building relationships with business users and identifying individuals who are tech-savvy, forward-looking, strong influencers and highly-respected throughout the company. Sometimes they even come to us with an interest in getting involved! The super-users act as liaisons for the IT team and help other business users really understand the impact on the business. Murat, you should definitely consider using a super-user model to help with BI adoption among your sales reps.

We don’t have a huge need right now for mobility, but I think for you, Murat, it definitely makes sense to have BI functionality for the mobile sales team, especially when they are meeting with doctors. I would suggest making any apps that you develop as product-agnostic as possible, especially given the rapid consumerization of IT.

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Sandeep Phanasgaonkar, CTO, Reliance Capital (See profile)

Embrace mobility for the sales team

I am embracing mobility for BI projects, and we are remaining agile enough to develop for multiple devices on any platform. Reliance sales agents manage campaigns on their mobile device, with scheduled leads pushed out daily by the CRM system. Agents input highlights of the sales meetings on the mobile app and the details go back into the CRM, which then updates the BI database and provides an analysis of the campaign. This provides agents and branch managers with BI data for use in business decisions. We have a similar collections system which pushes specific cases to collectors on their mobile device, and then updated information is reported back, via mobile, to the remote system.

Murat, you raise a very good point about data structure identification. We use SAS as our BI platform and have data models for different industry verticals. We had to customize it a little bit for India, but it has helped us a lot in giving a structure to the data warehouse.

An important thing to remember for user buy-in is that you have to launch a BI program that is business-relevant and focused on a solving a pain-point or realizing a new benefit. I have first-hand experience with the challenges you are facing with the sales team. Salespeople, by nature, operate on their gut-feeling. It’s difficult for them to fully trust and embrace BI. But you can’t make business decisions on a hunch. We have visible senior-level sponsors like the heads of sales, marketing, risk and CEO who believe that BI with its analytics and forecasting capability is how all the future data-based decisions will be driven. I have done presentations and reviews about the BI initiative across all five companies operating under Reliance Group, and these senior executives were part of the talks I gave. You have to get users to understand that BI is not just being done to say “I have BI too.” It’s about making an impact on the business and helping everyone be successful in their jobs.

Mikki Clancy, VP & CIO, Premier Health Partners (See profile)

Use a shared governance model to track government regulation

Murat, I really believe a shared governance model will help with your BI project and it is something that you should consider implementing at Nobel. We are using shared governance for each component of our IT processes including our business, clinical and quality analytics program which is in beginning stages. This general framework has been used by IT at Premier for 10 years, and is constructed so executives from key representative functions collaborate to identify the pros/cons, risks, cost, and other concern points on a particular issue; discuss and make targeted decisions; create lasting documentation about the decision; and finally, get key stakeholder signoff.

Like you, quick response to ever-changing government regulations is also top of mind for me and shared governance plays a key role. We do have one FTE focused on public policy and government affairs, but there are an additional 10-15 positions throughout the enterprise that have specific accountabilities for government requirements. They are members of shared governance committees that communicate out any business process changes required. For example, we have four IT staff tracking the HITECH Act and MIPPA for e-prescribing and there is a shared governance committee examining all CMS rule changes.

Regarding your question about data structures – we have clinical, financial, administrative, and quality data sources, just to name a few. We built into our IT strategic plan an adoption of core vendor methodology for data structures: Premier’s core vendors became the sources of truth. These vendors are the ones we rely on for data sources for any items that feed into the analytics structure. If there are exceptions, we use the shared governance model to debate and come up with a decision.

Interviews done by Carrie Mathews

CIO Executive Council

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