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Harnessing your BI Powers

Technology has allowed us to have data at our fingertips, and we know that knowledge is power. Let’s harness our power for good! The definition of Business Intelligence (BI) is to support better business decisions. BI should empower people to make better choices and gain insights into problems so they can be solved easier, faster, and better or discover new opportunities.

Scenario – We received 10,000 orders today. Celebrate! Wait a minute…But what’s the context? What were the orders yesterday? What were the orders on this date last year? Does this mean the new marketing campaign was successful? Even if we celebrate the new marketing campaign, did the user demographic we targeted place the orders or were these repeat customers?

So, pure data numbers don’t accomplish our goals. It’s the comparison of data that accomplishes these goals and not just any numbers, but the right numbers. With all the data we have floating around, how exactly do we go about choosing the right numbers?

Post-It Graph PlanningBusiness Problem
+ Data Elements
+ Time Period
+ Context
+ Visualization


Start with the business problem

Keep in mind that the business problem for a CMO is not the same as that for a Sales Representative. Let’s take the CMO perspective.

  • Are we growing? What does growth mean? Let’s define as increased quantity of orders. If we were to look at changes in order quantities, we may be selling more product, but not necessarily gaining more customers. Why does the CMO care if we are growing? Growth may lead to bigger marketing budgets, additional team members, and showing worth *IF* marketing campaigns are tied to spikes in growth.
  • Was our marketing campaign successful? What does success mean? Let’s define as net new customers who fit into the consumer base targeted by the campaign. Why does the CMO care if the campaign was successful? It shows their team rocks.
  • For each question, choose the data, time period, and context that will help answer it.
    • Are we growing?
      • Data – # of Orders
      • Time – Year to Date by Week compared to Year to Date by Week from Last Year
      • Context – All Orders
    • Was our marketing campaign successful?
      • Data – # of Orders
      • Time – Dates of the Marketing Campaign
      • Context – Location of Targeted market consumers compared to actual purchasers


Choose a visual to represent

Not all visuals are created equal and there are many options. The key word here is visual, the picture should tell the story with minimal reading and interpretation by your audience. Just because that meter gauge looks cool, it may not make sense to represent your data.

  • Are we growing? We are comparing two long time spans (years) so we will need something that has horizontal length and the ability to overlay two spans of data (current year and prior year).
  • Was our marketing campaign successful? We have overall purchases and want to understand the breakdown of two categories within that overall number of orders, in addition we want the breakdown by location (region).


Ask the “Other Questions” to finish telling the story

  • Do we need to get into more detail upon viewing these visualizations to allow them to be actionable? Example – click on a graph to see regional breakdown.
  • It would be helpful to understand which media channels drove the most orders.
  • Are there single hit metrics that can send a quick message?
  • “We have increased Orders by 20%! Since last week
  • Are these individual visualizations or presented on a dashboard?

The sheer amount of data that we have can be overwhelming, but BI doesn’t have to be. Breaking down the process into steps to organize your thoughts provides a great way to streamline your process.

     Post-It Graph 2