With all the hype about big data and analytics, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and think that the latest tool is the solution. In my 21 years of experience analyzing data for associations, I’m clear that business intelligence is business activity and that technology and tools are simply enablers. For associations, the field of business intelligence and data analytics is really about understanding the story that the data is telling so that the organization can make good decisions designed to advance their mission.
We’ve all heard that when we start an initiative the first step is to clearly define what success will look like. I’d like to propose that with association analytics that there’s a step before that, because “the quality of your answers is correlated to the quality of your questions”! In other words, the best way to ensure you are successful is to first get clarity on your business questions.
The place to start with analytics is a high profile area, such as your largest revenue source or an area identified as having a high priority in your association’s strategic plan. Before starting a business intelligence initiative, consider the following straightforward questions about the business area you are analyzing:
- What do we know about it and how do we know that?
- How do we currently make decisions about it?
- How do we currently measure it?
- What do we want to know?
- What are our opportunities and risks – both short and long-term?
Once these questions have been answered, move to the next set:
- Who will drive the initiative? The most successful implementations have common characteristics: executive buy-in as well as other key decision makers who understand the goals, a strong internal leader who owns the project and for whom it is a priority, and other internal champions that will be using the solution. These people drive excitement and user adoption among the other users.
- Who within the organization will use the data analytics? What tools are they using now? What do they struggle with? Different audiences require different levels of detail as well as different amounts of training.
- Where is our data and what is the quality of it? Validate the primary data source and secondary sources to include and develop a “common language dictionary” which describes the meaning of the terms your organization uses to describe data.
Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind” and the fastest way to do that with data is to determine your business questions first. Once you know the questions, you can find the answers because your data is telling a story and when you understand the story it is telling, you can change the ending and create the future!