Collaborative Business Intelligence: The Road to Better Decision Making

When I started out in Data & Analytics, one of my first roles was as an analyst at Washington Mutual Bank in Seattle.  I was responsible for a monthly product line report that went up to our executive manager who then shared it with her management and peers.  Although the report took a few hours to build, it took up to two weeks to research, explore, explain and footnote the data in a way that added value for the executives.  It wasn’t enough to just say that the number of CDs sold that month went up, I had to explain why they went up – and I had to be right.

It is situations like this that have made Collaborative Business Intelligence such an attractive idea.  Collaborative BI (also called Social Business Intelligence) is about bringing stakeholders and subject matter experts together to make better decisions.  The belief is that when people work collaboratively they are more likely to challenge assumptions, find gaps in other’s thoughts, and provide alternative viewpoints and areas of expertise.

Imagine my product line report being made available to sales (did we have a sales focus on CDs last month?), IT (did we have errors in data feeds related to CDs?), marketing (did we have an advertising push on CDs last month), etc.  Each of these groups could see the report, comment on it, add their own annotations and share their responses online and in context.  Six months later, if questions came up regarding the decisions that were made as a result, the information collected during the earlier collaboration sessions would be documented and auditable.

Collaborative BI has many Possible Forms

  • Report-centric discussion – allows BI users to focus their comments and feedback around a particular report.
  • General discussion – general discussions may be similar to report-centric discussion but including multiple reports (discussions about a dashboard for example) or other more general topic.
  • Annotations – annotations come in many forms but they generally allow the end user to add comments, highlights, etc. on top specific items in a report, focusing on their areas of expertise and/or ownership.

Benefits of Collaborative BI

  •  Faster and more informed decision-making – subject matter experts and decision makers can quickly share ideas and drive cohesive fact-based decisions.
  • Knowledge Sharing – encourages diverse groups to interact with a common focus and gather ideas that otherwise may not have been visible to the decision makers.
  •  Employee Satisfaction – empowers employees by giving them a means of voicing thoughts and ideas in a targeted way, and enables them to better see an association between a decision and the conversations that led up to it.
  • Stakeholder Involvement – with the right tools and/or processes, stakeholders can respond at a time that is convenient to them; this is especially important when stakeholders have busy schedules and are in multiple time zones.
  • Audit trail – decisions and conversations can be saved and referred back to at a later date; having a documented decision trail can also reduce decision churn and prevent having the same discussion multiple times.
  • Security – more cutting edge collaboration tools integrate security with their collaboration offering.  This enforces report permissions for those being asked to review a report and ensure they authorized to view it.

Collaborative BI does have it’s challenges – too many conflicting voices can make it difficult to come to agreement on an issue and, as with physical meetings, strong personalities can overwhelm a discussion if not managed appropriately.

Most major BI vendors now claim to be integrating collaborative BI into their platforms.  It is also becoming more common for businesses to use software that is separated from their BI tool offering but fosters collaboration.  This is a ‘hot trend’ in BI that I think is here to stay – I just wish it had been here a few years earlier.