Business Intelligence (BI)

Business Intelligence has been a buzzword for years. Organizations saw it as optional or unnecessary. In the current environment, Business Intelligence has become a necessity. Organizations in any industry look for relevant information to make decisions.

Just as cash is the lifeblood of any organization. Data is the lifeblood of any information system in the organization. The importance of collecting data in a systematic and structured way is critical to the success of any business. Management needs to have visibility into all aspects of the business. Not only from a financial point of view but also other metrics that are critical to measuring the business success such as operations, compliance and HR. Accuracy and speed are among the most critical factors. We will discuss the importance of how business intelligence play a major role in providing the organization with the critical information it needs to make good decisions. We will focus on why business intelligence is important and how to implement a business intelligence solution.

Business Intelligence (BI)

Almost half a century ago, P. Hans Luhn, an IBM researcher defined business intelligence as the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal. This definition is still relevant today. No longer can management wait for historical information to make future decisions. Fact or evidence based systems have become critical to any organization.

In the past when data was not available, decisions were made based on intuition and “gut feelings”. Today in a dynamic and ever changing business world, data drives decision-making.

Healthcare is one of the major industries that could benefit from BI. Organizations in the healthcare industry have to quickly adapt to satisfy government regulations whether on the state or federal level. The need to build systems that are robust and adaptable to change is inevitable. The current challenges range from collecting data in a systematic and consistent way to securing the data to the ability of providing accurate and timely reporting and analysis. BI could be the spark that exposes different metrics to help healthcare organizations identify ways to improve quality.

Benefits of Business Intelligence

Data collected in the healthcare industry usually falls into one of three categories: Financial, Clinical and Operational. Within each of those categories, there are multiple variations of analysis that need to be sliced and diced in different ways. BI will provide information, develop knowledge about financial, clinical and operational metrics that will impact decision-making behavior to improve quality of care and achieve higher profitability.

Some of the benefits and improvements that can be reaped from implementing a business intelligence solution are:

1. Quality of care:

A healthcare provider such as a hospital or a home health facility main goal is to improve quality of care for patients. BI is not only used for operational and financial purposes. With the vast amount of stored clinical data including patient history, BI could help identify better ways of monitoring and treating our patients. Implementing a fact based system with analytics not only help clinicians and doctors better asses the trends and monitor improvement for their patients, it could provide insights on treatment outcomes that would enhance quality of care. This will provide a competitive advantage to any healthcare organization.

2. Strategy

What is measured improves, said Peter Drucker. Without measuring where we are today, we cannot plan where we want to be tomorrow. Using BI to develop metrics to monitor clinical, operational and financial information will help the organization with setting long-term goals and develop future strategy.

3. Speed

We need information and we need it fast. BI tools provide us with the ability to analyze data in multiple ways. It summarizes massive amount of data into variety of reporting formats such as dashboards and graphical representation to enable healthcare management to act quickly in a dynamic environment.

4. Accuracy

Providing accurate information is critical. Bad information leads to bad decisions. In healthcare, bad decisions could impact the livelihood of patients. BI uses visual capabilities that make finding inaccuracies more efficient. Identifying inaccuracies will serve as a red flag to correct the issues and minimize the risks associated with them.

5. Enhancing Decision Making

Using BI improves the decision making process. The steps of making a decision involve four different stages: intelligence (problem discovery), design (solution discovery), choice (choosing solutions), and implementation (solution testing). This process is iterative and can take a long time to run through different scenarios before finding a solution that could work. BI can significantly reduce this cycle of decision making by providing different scenarios and changing them on the fly to get instant reporting and analysis. It also allows us to visually see the impact whether it is on a summarized or a more granular level.

Selecting a BI Solution

There are many vendors providing BI platforms in the market today. Some of which have a great market share and an established track record. When selecting BI solutions, some of the factors we need to consider are:

1. Understanding our needs:

In order to choose a BI solution, we must first understand what we want to get out of the BI solution. What it is supposed to do and what are problems we are trying to solve by implementing the BI solution.

2. Ease of Use:

One of the main goals of implementing a BI solution is to give users the tools to analyze data. The BI solution learning curve has to be minimal in order to be adapted by the users. Training should be easily available and provide users with a quick understanding of how to use the BI tool. The BI solution need to be designed to empower developers to rapidly build BI applications that can be utilized by employees at all levels. This expands business intelligence far beyond analysts and power users – who have always been able to employ complex BI tools – and makes it readily available to line of business workers who require operational reporting to support their day-to-day activities and drive process efficiencies across functions.

3. Scalability:

BI solutions are selected to provide a greater impact on operational efficiency. This means that BI solutions need to scale to all levels of the organizations without the need for costly upgrades or great deal of maintenance. The availability to users is very important, as they will utilize the BI solution to analyze their operations and make decisions based on the analysis.

4. Information Sharing:

Information is mostly a “Pull and Push” process. Users pull information to share it with their team, customers, suppliers and others who need to know and act upon the information shared. The BI solution needs to allow the user to share the information efficiently. Most users share information by email, which is static. The information sharing process has to be more dynamic where once the data is updated; it is automatically update for the user. This can be accomplished by utilizing the web interface as a delivery method of the BI solution.

5. Integration:

Most organizations have multiple systems for different functions. The BI solutions must have the ability to easily integrate with current in house systems. BI solution is required to integrate with back-end systems in order to solve a problem. Organizations may need more integration tools however BI solutions should have the ability to integrate with major databases and file formats.

Implementing a BI Solution

The key elements of an organization are its People, Structure, Business processes, Politics and Culture. Implementing a new technology will impact those elements and should be addressed accordingly.

BI is a front-end technology that analyzes data. The Challenge is to put the structure in place to get the highest return on investment (ROI) of the BI solution. The data and systems have to be ready to implement a BI solution. Another challenge we face is once the technology is in place is how to get people to learn it and use it.

Data represent a key challenge since it is stored in different systems across the board. In order to solve this problem, a data warehouse needs to be developed. A data warehouse is created to centralize data into one place and is optimized for analytics needs. This is a huge undertaking but is necessary if we are looking to get a high ROI on our BI solution.

Summary

Business Intelligence (BI) is a culture change and not just a technology. Systems and structure have to be in place to fully leverage the BI solution. That being said, we can’t afford to wait until the systems and structure are in place. Our approach should be one that allows us to grow into the BI solution. BI can highlight data and system inefficiencies, therefore we need to implement a cost effective BI solution as a pilot. This is how a learning organization approaches new technology to reduce the risk of failure and understand the groundwork that needs to be done for it to be successful.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Salah Elleithy, PMP, is an experienced Business analyst with a decade of experience in a diverse array of industries. He is passionate about performance management and data analytics. He has a wide experience in business development, business intelligence, and decision support to senior management. Salah worked on a portfolio of projects to develop a variety of metrics in the energy, pharmaceutical and health industries. Salah is also passionate about teaching and he volunteers with many organizations. You can follow him on twitter (@selleithy).


References

“A Business Intelligence System”, IBM Journal, October 1958, P. Luhn. http://www.research.ibm.com/journal/rd/024/ibmrd0204H.pdf (Link has been moved to IEEE)

Foundation of Business Intelligence: Databases and Information Management. K. and J. Laudon. Chapter 6, PP 222-223

Healthcare Tech: Can BI Save the System? InformationWeek. August 2009, Boris Eveleson

http://www.informationweek.com/news/healthcare/interoperability/showArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=W1Z0ZH23HDHPFQE1GHRSKH4ATMY32JVN?articleID=219300177pgno=2queryText=isPrev=

Business Intelligence in the Healthcare Industry, http://www.hypatiaresearch.com/images/HypatiaResearch_2BIinHEALTHCARE_ExecSum_TOC.pdf

Applying Business Intelligence to the Needs of Healthcare Organizations

http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/content/TEC-90944/Applying-Business-Intelligence-to-the-Needs-of-Healthcare-Organizations.html

http://jonhunt.org/resources/HealthcareAnalytics_eHR_EMR.pdf

What is an Information System? , Dr. Harding http://polaris.umuc.edu/~gharding/isas610/wk1Ch01LectureteGlobalBusinesses.html

Databases, Dr. Harding http://polaris.umuc.edu/~gharding/isas610/wk4ch06Lecturette1Databases.html

Information System Definition, Information System in Global business today, ch.1, pg.16

Management Information System, ISAS 610, Ch. 12, Enhancing Decision Making, pp. 450

Key elements of Organizations, Dr. Harding http://polaris.umuc.edu/~gharding/isas610/wk1Ch01LectureteGlobalBusinesses.html

How business intelligence should work, Kevin Quinn.

http://www.techrepublic.com/whitepapers/how-business-intelligence-should-work-the-connection-between-strategic-analytical-and-operational-initiatives/1129907

Special Report, BI Megatrends. January 2008, David Stodder

http://www.informationweek.com/news/software/bi/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=205602945

Tableau Software, www.tableausoftware.com

 

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