A Business Intelligence Journey: Achieving End User Buy-in to Ensure a Successful Implementation


There's a familiar challenge that all businesses face at some point in their development, when they've built up mountains of data and a myriad of ways to interpret it. To make things worse many Business Intelligence (BI) tools to handle and present the data are clunky and staff spend days producing manual, static and backwards looking reports that can't be interacted with, leading to more and more requests for reports. Tensions can rise between data handlers and data consumers but really, what they both want is the same thing—automated, easy to access, easy to interpret and insightful data. This was the challenge I faced at the University of Sunderland and this is how Qlik is helping me meet the challenge head-on.

Those working in business intelligence know that a company’s decision-making process and efficiency is directly tied to its ability to effectively consume data. Too often valuable decision-making time is lost due to individuals wading through piles of paper looking for the correct figure, even just trying to find the right report. In addition to this being a tedious and time consuming process, it’s also one dimensional. Stakeholders are left holding one report, unable to manipulate the material in order to view it from a different angle. As a result, meetings and vital decision making get held up simply because the data is not easily digestible. Step forward dashboards! Interactive, drillable visual analytics that are accessed on demand are the key to more informed and expedited decisions within an organization.

When I started at the university, we had an inefficient process for distributing reports. It had become heavily reliant on PDF documents that were summaries of tables that existed in Excel and Business Objects reports. It was my task to go out and find the best BI tool for the university, one that could bring efficiency to decision making but also one that would be intuitive for end users who ranged from academics to executives.

As it turns out, this task was right in my wheelhouse. Before I moved into the education sector, I worked as an analyst for an energy company where we adopted Qlik, a leading visual analytics platform. While I was familiar with the power of this platform, I was impartial and did my due diligence. After an extensive vetting process, we concluded Qlik was the best option for the university as well. We selected Qlik because it provides great flexibility. It has an inbuilt ETL tool as well as slick visualizations, which means we can do everything in one place.

Once we had settled on a provider, I met with the end users who would be consuming the data. We worked out a plan to get dashboards into the university and set out to change the data culture.

BI Software Adoption

Prior to Qlik, executives and faculty staff were bogged down in paperwork when going into meetings. For example, a meeting to discuss student numbers used to include about 10 different PDFs with about 50 pages of tables. Plus, they could not drill down in that data. If they needed that data in a different way, it meant they needed to put in an ad hoc request to our data team. Obviously, that created a big bottle neck. Additionally, reports were only produced weekly. We knew we could improve this process. However, we were delicate about the implementation because we wanted to ensure that everyone would be open to the new process. 

Can't get your point across? It's not your data, it's how you present it #dataviz

We started by looking at what we could do with Qlik and basically started moving things over in a format that they were accustomed to seeing. We knew we could take the old reports that would go out in PDFs and replicate those in Qlik. That part was easy. Plus, it acted as a comfort blanket because it was familiar. We were also able to provide users daily reports instead of weekly. Finally, we configured the dashboard in such a way that allowed users to drill down into these reports and the benefits were instant. 

Dashboard Configuration and Design

For easy adoption, it’s imperative to customize data and present it in a familiar format that best aligns with the end user’s technical skills. For us, we wanted everything designed with a website feel. We released the dashboards on desktop and mobile devices to give users a navigation experience they were already familiar with. We also provided one-on-one training to ease staff into the new process. 

Fear of the unfamiliar leads to stagnation. Move your biz forward with #dataviz @Qlik

This approach was wildly successful. In addition to an easy navigation method, we also wanted to introduce an element of self service. On top of the tables they were used to seeing in the PDFs, we also added summary pages with charts and other visualizations to bring the key elements out of the statistics, such as gauges to track performance against target. Within a week, the feedback from the users was that they no longer used the table versions they were used to in the past. It was all wrapped up in the university’s branding and the familiarity of the experience eased people’s fear of moving from a very static comfortable PDF to what they thought might be a very complicated dashboard.

Embracing Analytics

Qlik has transformed the way people conduct their meetings. Meetings are more efficient because people no longer spend half of their time finding and debating the accuracy and validity of the data. This frees up time to focus on strategy and what the data is telling us about our direction of travel.

Aside from saving the university time and assisting with sound decision making, the data presented in Qlik has helped to increase our conversion rate of applicants to enrolled students since the implementation of dashboards.

#BusinessIntelligence is more than data. It's knowing how to use it. #dataviz

Implementation Tips and Tricks

Working in higher education things can change on a day-to-day bases, e.g. having to react to a government decision. As a result, we may need to change our dashboards, which means we need to quickly access our scripts and understand how data is picked up and transformed. It was imperative that coding and scripts were set out clearly and well annotated so that anyone could pick them up, understand what was going on and make changes.  

My last bit of advice for those in the BI world who are looking to adopt a new platform is to research the community, too. The Qlik Community is rich and lively. This space is a well-connected representation of expert users. I have been able to easily connect with other users to share ideas, tips and tricks. A strong community helps users, new and old, continue to learn as the software incorporates new updates. As an active member, we are all there to test the boundaries of the platform and provide practical advice to users. In my opinion, Qlik’s community is a unique environment and an added bonus that you don’t typically encounter with other BI platforms.