Creativity is critical for successful BI

Lately I have been involved in a few conversations about ‘what makes for a successful BI initiative’. Of course there are the traditional responses about Business buy-in versus IT development, project planning etc. The problem with these is that they focus on the mundane – the technical delivery of reporting to the business rather than the adoption of Business Intelligence as a cultural initiative.

At the core of the mundane is reporting – this is not to say that it is not important – it is vital. However, it is the minimum that organizations should do. Reporting is not an art, its not innovative and it unlikely to give you competitive advantage. Odd comment from a BI software vendor I know.

Competitive advantage and strategic insight comes from your company’s ability to analyze data not just report from it. Analysis is a creative exercise. Whether intended or not people who analyze data are looking to uncover new insights, discover correlations and use data to assist in strategic decision-making
Sound simple? Wrong! Analysis is an art and requires three core organizational conditions to exist for it to be successful.

Creative people & small teams

You have to start with the people. Analytical excellence is not a gift that everyone shares and our experience is that analytical creativity cannot be taught either. Basically you are looking for the Picasso of data analysis not a sign painter. So what to look for?

At a recent IBM event a great description of this type of individual came up in conversation. What you need is a BVA (Bright Visual Articulate).
A BVA needs to be:

  1. Highly numeric,
  2. Investigative,
  3. Theoretical; and
  4. Understand your business and its drivers.

Typically these are young postgraduate students, straight from university, who work directly for a member of the executive team. Note your BVA is part of the business – not IT. Why young? Well these types use this phase of their careers as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things.

You do not need a lot of them. They need to work independently or in small team. Typically their job is highly unstructured and they have the freedom to focus on what they believe is important and to create new analytical projects based on their own investigations and feedback from their executive mentors. They should be measured and rewarded for discovery.

Their reason for existence in your organization is to discover and test relationships between you data and your business process outcomes. What they bring to you is a scientific rigor to analysis – one that goes beyond the “ohh look at that correlation isn’t it interesting”. They need to have the capacity to discover the correlation, test it and understand it from the perspective of your business and business strategy.

Creative & analytical culture

For your BVA to be successful they need a few things from you. Most importantly is a creative and analytical culture in which to thrive.

A creative culture is one in which people are open to each other’s suggestions and ideas and where people feel free to challenge the status quo and try out new approaches. This type of culture makes it easier for people to engage actively in developing new ideas and helps improve business processes over the long term.
In a creative culture management need to nurture and support their BVA Picassos. Creating the right conditions for analytical creativity to flourish involves:

  • Unfetted Access to data
A tough one for most to get comfortable with. You need to encourage high degrees of openness, freedom and trust and unfetted access to data is the way you show your BVA the love;
  • Time.
Creativity comes through contemplation and time. It is not something that is regimented – so give your BVA’s lots of it
  • Play.
Your BVA needs to be able to play with data. Give them the toys they need to do so. Finally a vendor plug! Well let’s be honest its pointless to have heaps of data and no way of visualizing it.
  • Support
not everyone in your organization is going to provide the data your BVA is looking for no matter how nicely they ask. Executive sponsorship is vital


For managers it’s more about enabling and resourcing than command and control. The shift in mindset that moving to a more creative culture requires can be a challenge for some organizations, but the rewards can be substantial.

Change culture

Ok so now you have found your BVA, supported them and let them loose on company data. They have done their job – delivered insight. What next?
Well to keep your BVA’s happy you actually need to do something. Take their insight build it into your corporate strategy and test the theories live (maybe just in one department etc to get going – remember continue to test their hypothesis). Bottom line you need to act.

Sometimes the findings can be hard to swallow but in your new creative open culture you need to be prepared to change. If not then what was the point of all that analysis in the first place.

So there you have it three simple steps to successful BI and analytical initiatives in your organization.  Oh yeah you may want to use Yellowfin as well!

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