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How the Pandemic Changed the Way We Use BI

The seismic shifts we’ve experienced since the start of COVID-19 have fundamentally changed how we use business intelligence, ushering in the era of embedded business intelligence and self-service analytics. While employees are starting to head back to the office, many prefer to continue working from home at least part of the time, giving rise to the hybrid workforce.

This means they’ll need self-service data-generated insights at their fingertips from a single source of truth to find those new growth opportunities or improve operational efficiencies.

Here we’ll discuss how the pandemic changed the way we use BI and offer insights on how to create an embedded BI strategy for your finance team.

The Need for Embedded BI

In March 2020, employees suddenly found themselves working from home and requiring remote access to business applications and analytical tools. Suddenly, advanced analytics was no longer the exclusive domain of data scientists.

That’s why the ‘next’ normal involves embedded BI. According to Gartner, embedded analytics “is a digital workplace capability where data analysis occurs within a user’s natural workflow, without the need to toggle to another application.” 

Many remote work environments (and now hybrid workforces) rely on embedded BI because it integrates analytic capabilities and data visualizations — such as real-time reports and interactive dashboards — directly into applications that users are already familiar with.

Instead of rolling out a new BI platform to every end-user in the organization, embedding BI integrates into the organization’s existing software applications and provides robust and customizable data visualization for everyone throughout the organization.

Excel and Traditional BI Tools

Using legacy databases or spreadsheets such as Excel may have served you well over the years. However, some necessary functionalities are still missing for BI in a rapidly changing business environment.

Spreadsheets need a lot of tweaking. The main issue being outdated information. Though spreadsheet tools, such as excel, offer useful macros to automate tasks and formulas to help subsidize workflows. These tools don’t provide full benefits if they are not showcasing the updates a team member may have made with others in the organization. 

Other issues arise when faced with the difficulty levels in understanding spreadsheet tools and the single-tenancy service, which also increases human error risks. As a result, making an error in one spreadsheet have a ripple effect across multiple spreadsheets and reports. It becomes incredibly complex if you have to manage different versions of spreadsheets of reports for different reporting areas.

With Excel or other traditional BI tools, it’s common for companies to share files via email or shared folders on local networks. Version control becomes increasingly difficult as some users may not have the latest iteration.

Making Data Accessible to Everyone with Self-service BI Tools

The first step of your business intelligence strategy should be to adopt BI tools that are self-service so that any authorized user can access them.

This allows anyone within the organization to analyze business data and present the results without having to wait for the data specialists or an IT team to do it for them. This reduces the team members’ workload and provides a multi-tenancy feature, saving time and improving data literacy among teams.

The ability to customize data visualizations and ad hoc reports aid departments, managers, and others authorized to access the data can sort and filter in different ways. Each person can sort the data to provide the insights they need rather than relying on a static report. This keeps employees focused on company goals and KPIs. With an embeddable BI solution, you eliminate the limitations of spreadsheets and traditional BI tools.

The next step to your embedded BI strategy is to outline any user adoption issues. These obstacles could be end-users resisting change, a reluctance to learn new applications or an overall misunderstanding how to use self-service BI effectively.

Even though employees often demonstrate their willingness to use technology and adapt to new situations, most of them have already faced many challenges as they adjusted to working remotely. Typically, with self-service BI implementations, the more you can prove the benefits and ease of use, the less reluctance you will face from end-users. Therefore, start with a smaller focus group of users who have clear and immediate use cases to confirm immediate results. Have senior management evangelize the benefits and lead the initiative. Have a top-down approach emphasizing how executive management uses self-service and how they benefit from the change. 

A Few Benefits of Self-Service BI:

Saves Time: Before the pandemic, end-users would request data visualization (dashboards and reports) from IT departments. Self-service BI changes this request process. Self-service platforms can speed up the method of gathering data (without having to wait for IT to process requests) and give analysts and managers better control over both their information and the way they view it. This can prove especially critical in an age when many people have begun to consider remote work the “new normal.”

Real-time insights: Self-service BI can also provide the critical early-warning signals that companies require in such an unpredictable environment where they have to deal with issues that range from unreliable supply chains to changing consumer behavior. The abruptness of the changes during COVID-19 emphasizes the need for fast, flexible ways to gain and use information. Self-service BI enables the collaborative, remote, and self-sufficient reporting and analytics that all businesses need in a continuously changing economic landscape.

Reasons to Use Embedded Business Intelligence in Your Finance Department

Always Up to Date

By comparison, the best BI software allows for interactive dashboards and data visualizations that are always up-to-date. It enables users to analyze large datasets, sort data automatically, customize data to work best for them and create shareable visualizations.

Even individuals who are not particularly computer-savvy can intuitively generate visualizations, and ad hoc reports to monitor finances, productivity, sales, costs, and other business functions. When you have real-time data and a single set of truth with embedded BI, your financial data analytics will be more accurate and reflect current conditions.

Improving Executive Analytical Insight

Data visualization allows executives to obtain analytical insights into financial data independently without needing someone else to create the report for them. As a result, making financial data accessible for everyone in the company to quickly and efficiently spot trends.

When making strategic fiscal decisions, you need access to current data—relying on past performance reports is outdated and time-consuming, as a result, heightening your organization’s chances of unintended costs and errors. By identifying patterns, you can better predict future trends.

Drive Revenue Growth

Embedding financial data in your applications gives you vital insights into your financial condition at first glance while also providing a quick way to drill down to the underlying data. Helping you track revenue at both the macro and micro level.

Details can be missed in performance reports, but with real-time data, you can see trends as they emerge to make faster and better decisions. You can also identify new growth opportunities and track their progress easily.

Developing New Investment Strategies

Active management of your investment portfolio helps you see market volatility. Tracking performance across industries and sectors can give you a strategic advantage in managing your portfolio. It can help you see when it’s time to diversify or develop new investment strategies.

Risk Reduction

Whether you are analyzing trading risks, assessing portfolios, auditing your organization for regulatory purposes, or planning budgets, real-time data measuring performance against your KPIs help you reduce potential risks by catching mistakes early on.

No More Data Siloes

The power of data improves when you can aggregate data across an organization for a complete picture. Legacy systems often have data siloes that become difficult to combine and merge in spreadsheets or other reporting tools. As a result, different departments end up tracking data in various ways, which can lead to a number of different conclusions.

The challenge in business today isn’t a lack of data, but making sure everyone is using the right data. Embedded BI creates a single version of the truth. When you eliminate data siloes, everyone has access to the same underlying financial data, helping you create better alignment for future projects.

Automated Financial Reporting and Updates

If someone is working off an old version of a spreadsheet, they may draw the wrong conclusions. They might not even know it’s out of date. Rather than rely on making sure everyone has the latest version or requiring manual updates, the best BI tools will automate the data collection process and have scheduled data refreshes. 

Creates a Data-Driven Culture

While most companies encounter challenges during this uncertain time, several hurdles can be minimized using embedded, self-service BI.  Whether dealing with a Black Swan event such as a pandemic, or dealing with market shifts, supply chain disruptions, or changes in consumer demands, businesses need to be ready for the unexpected, and able to pivot on a dime with reliable, real-time data, accessible to all users, even those working from home. 

The use of self-service makes data more valuable by uncovering opportunities to reduce expenses, improve business processes, and increase revenue. As the ability to make data-driven decisions increases and moves upward within an organization, a fundamental change happens. A company’s culture can be transformed as individuals are empowered to become more data-driven.

Louie Andre

By Louie Andre

B2B & SaaS market analyst and senior writer for FinancesOnline. He is most interested in project management solutions, believing all businesses are a work in progress. From pitch deck to exit strategy, he is no stranger to project business hiccups and essentials. He has been involved in a few internet startups including a digital route planner for a triple A affiliate. His advice to vendors and users alike? "Think of benefits, not features."

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