Essential Guide

Guide to SQL business intelligence, analytics and data visualization

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BI as a Service: Tips for scaling your BI system...in human terms

BI systems are great...if you can get your employees to use them. How do you make your system scalable? Read this tip from Don Jones to find out.

Folks in the IT industry like to talk about scalability. That term usually describes a system's ability to accommodate additional workload as the organization's needs change and grow. Generally speaking, IT systems are used by whatever users need them. In other words, you don't have to work too hard to convince people to use, say, your email system -- in fact, they'll be demanding to use it.

With other systems, however, you have a bit of work to do. While you certainly need to think about your BI system's ability to scale -- that is, to handle additional workload-- it's also worth thinking about how to make Business Intelligence as a Service scale across your company. Simply put, how can you convince more users to take advantage of the thing?

For more on SQL Server BI systems

Can SQL Server BI systems be virtualized?

Why your BI system loves upgrades

Can you run a SQL Server BI system in the cloud?

A BI system represents a significant investment, and you undoubtedly hope to get a return on that investment by using the system to make smarter business decisions, spot new opportunities and so forth. The more employees you get to use the system, the better your chances of reaping the benefits sooner rather than later. With that in mind, here are some tips to draw in the crowds:

  • Make it accessible. Modern BI systems rely heavily on Web-based interfaces, which is good, because almost any user can easily access them at any time. You don't need to deploy specialized software, users don't need to learn as much and there are generally fewer barriers to use.
  • Take baby steps. Don't try to get every user to be a PowerPivot BI jockey right away. Start people small, asking them to find answers to important questions that are within their specific area of the business.
  • Focus on the visuals. Graphs, charts, dashboards and scorecards represent an easy entry point into the sometimes complex world of BI. Make sure your BI system offers these visuals and get users thinking about what other visuals they could use in their daily business lives.
  • Make it a game. Seriously -- consider offering users a kind of scavenger hunt for facts, which they'll uncover by using the BI system. Offer an actual reward -- perhaps a couple of extra days off work or a nice dinner out with their family -- for the winner. Part of the difficulty in learning to use a BI system is in not knowing what it's actually supposed to do; with a firm, achievable goal in mind, people are often more willing to dive in and try things out.
  • Discuss it over lunch. Monthly "lunch and learn" sessions are an opportunity for free lunch (you're buying) and a chance for users to share some of what they've been doing with the BI system. This kind of cross-pollination gives other users ideas for what they might do, and gives them a forum to ask "how do I" questions that might otherwise dampen their efforts.
  • Recognize excellence. Make using the BI system -- and achieving specific things with it -- part of employees' formal job descriptions and their performance review process. Make time for them to learn, and recognize their achievements. Consider appointing "BI gurus" within different business departments, and reward the employees who fill that role.

The biggest challenge in getting a good return on investment from a BI system isn't in the system -- it's in your people. Giving them support, reasons to use it and goals to achieve will help ensure that your BI system lives up to its potential.

This was first published in December 2012

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Essential Guide

Guide to SQL business intelligence, analytics and data visualization

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