Future-proofing the decision support solution
Change management should be an ongoing initiative, with checks and balances continually monitoring the solution.
In this last Industry Insight in the series: "Enabling decision support solutions", I will delve into what companies need to consider in order to ensure their investment continues to show a return and supports users in their decision-making process on an ongoing basis.
In my previous Industry Insights, I highlighted key functions in initiating, developing and deploying a decision support solution. I discussed the importance of the first step, how companies need to plan and build enterprise-wide business intelligence (BI) architecture and infrastructure by defining and managing a BI architecture framework, whereby people, processes and technology can be specified and integrated.
For the next step, I emphasised that a well thought-out plan on enabling effective decision-making must be underpinned by a solid data delivery plan. Because data is the foundation to the solution, the importance of quality and timeliness of data cannot be underestimated. Business needs to rely on its data to make business decisions, and bad quality, poorly populated information can end up undermining all the efforts of the IT team in supporting the business.
More recently, I stressed that for data visualisation initiatives to work, information needs to be given perspective. Only then will that information be consumed and impact the decision-making process. A company that is more mature in the decision-making process needs to move to predictive analysis - data therefore needs to be presented in a way that outlines not only what has already happened, but enables decision-makers to predict what will happen given different business scenarios.
There are many companies that have been through these processes diligently, investing considerable time, effort and money to deliver effective decision-making solutions. However, unfortunately, many companies stop there. The 'implemented' box is ticked and little emphasis is placed on how the solution will be sustained and how it will continue to evolve with the changing needs of the business.
It has consistently been found that for BI implementations, the highest return on investment is proven to be with clients that implement a change management plan, with a focus on user training. Enabling users with the skills to utilise the system ensures a smooth transition, but also sees the users buying into the system, driving adoption.
Because budgets are constrained and it is often difficult for key users to dedicate time to learning a new system, companies should consider the different learning methods available and design a plan that is flexible enough to overcome time constraints, but sufficiently detailed to give users confidence in using the new system. A combination of e-learning, classroom training and workshops needs to be deliberated to give users with different profiles (from information consumers to report designers) enough solution knowledge that they will use the system effectively.
However, training alone is not sufficient to ensure the decision support solution will be adopted and help the company drive transformation. It is important to look at change management as an ongoing initiative, with checks and balances to ensure users don't revert to using spreadsheets as their primary source of information.
Champion of change
Change management initiatives can include elements such as identifying and rewarding solution champions. Champions that are recognised as having the skills and interest in the new tools will most likely be happy to assist other users, as well as demonstrate how the new tools are supporting them in making better decisions.
Other change management techniques include tying an element of performance incentive to the achievement of learning goals. At solution go-live, the employee and his or her manager should meet to determine learning goals. These then need to be assessed regularly. The manager knows what to budget for from a training perspective and the employee knows to allocate time to realise specific learning goals in order to achieve a percentage of their performance bonus.
In addition, knowledge sharing and collaboration through the use of portals such as SharePoint allow users to benefit from their colleagues' experience, ask questions and search for relevant contextual content. This will supplement the more traditional methods of training.
Another aspect of ensuring solution longevity and flexibility is how the solution is supported within the company. As part of change management, users need to be informed of who to contact when they experience issues, or need further information, or who to speak to if they require further enhancements. Whether the support centre is internal or managed by the implementation partner, users need to have confidence that queries will be handled in a timely fashion, with continual feedback on support issues.
Adoption will be low if users typically experience frustration with a system and have no confidence that queries will be resolved. It is important for users to feel assured they have access to support infrastructures. Companies that do not have internal capacity should consider outsourcing support where there are full support systems, including call logging, call tracking, escalation and tracking of support queries.
Enabling users with the skills to utilise the system ensures a smooth transition, but also sees the users buying into the system.
Continual improvement of business processes and software will also assist in driving organisational change. Companies may be quick to cancel software maintenance contracts without understanding the impact on their solution. Technological growth in software is significant, and companies should be proactive in keeping their solution current. Maintenance is key not only in defect fixing, but also in ensuring future product releases allow for a continually changing environment. Software releases will focus on performance ability, functionality and usability, all of which will impact how the users adopt the system.
The final aspect is how to manage feedback and maintain a solution that is flexible enough to cater for changing business requirements. Decision support systems need to be monitored on a continual basis to maintain their relevance to the company and users' decision-making needs. Most systems have in-built reporting, which can be monitored, so see who is using the solution and how often. A drop in system usage will signify that either users need additional support or there is reduced relevance to the information being generated.
Decision support or BI solutions continue to be one of the top priorities of CIOs today. Despite this emphasise on its importance, Gartner states up to 70% of these initiatives fail. By understanding the maturity of the decision-making base, the technological environment, the state of the data and the visualisations required, companies can avoid many common implementation pitfalls.
However, even the most successful implementations may not be adopted and it is critical for businesses to plan and sustain solution adoption. Only then can they achieve the goal of enabling better, faster decision-making.
Nicholas Bell is CEO of Decision Inc, where he is responsible for driving the strategic and operational vision of the company. His focus is on building an organisation that clients will trust to provide an enhanced capability to make informed decisions. Bell holds a BCom honours degree from the University of Johannesburg. He was one step away from becoming a chartered accountant, when the opportunity of building and running SABâs Merchandising System arose. This opportunity appealed to his entrepreneurial spirit and enabled him to establish his own business, BusinessIntelligent. Bell quickly realised the potential represented by a new BI technology and became a reseller and implementation partner of QlikView South Africa. He leveraged this opportunity by using his understanding of technology and business to support clients in developing and deploying business intelligence solutions. Bell built BusinessIntelligent into the largest Qlikview partner in SA, servicing a variety of the countryâs blue-chip companies and their operations in other African countries. BusinessIntelligentâs success has been recognised by Qlikview, with awards for Exceptional Achievement in South Africa and for Excellence and Achievement at the 2012 Global Partners Awards event in Miami. BusinessIntelligent also achieved the Partner Excellence Award for 2013. Realising there exists a real need in the market for an organisation that supports the decision-making process through matching business analysis with technical skills, Bell has been instrumental in merging together BusinessIntelligent, ASYST Intelligence and the Microsoft division of DigiQuill, a Cyest company. With Decision Inc, he will continue to build on his success by driving consistent growth.