Business intelligence and data analytics are often, and rightly, associated with ongoing activities. In other words, they are regularly seen as tools of reaction, responding to shifts in conditions.
But there is another type of use, forward-looking, that BI and analysis can aid. Business planning is something that should happen on a regular basis in all companies. And BI allows people to make smarter plans and strategies.
Strategic business planning is an interesting and tricky activity. The concept of planning is one that promotes the idea of anticipation. The more thoroughly you know what you are going to do, the better you can allot resources, personnel, and focus. Even though things may not go as you expect, you can develop layered plans that offer alternative strategies to address a range of changing conditions.
There are multiple reasons why BI can be useful in advanced planning.
The right tools
Planning and decision need data. BI can help create a uniformity of tools and data sources so different people in the same company can plan using the same information. Instead of multiple people introducing different data sets that may effectively rely on varying assumptions, definitions, or methods of collection, all participants can start at the same place. Doing so eliminates invisible variability that can undermine the coherency needed to see if a plan works over time or not.
Avoiding the yoke of history
Historic numbers have some use in planning, but they are often a drag on the process. Strategy is the act of deciding how to move forward in a potentially new direction. Basing planning on historic numbers means you assume that things will go as before and discount the potential for rapid and fundamental change. Using data that is as current as possibly increases the chance that your plan is based on patterns as they change and develop. As a result a company is more likely to address what is happening now rather than what happened a year or two or five ago.
Embrace the process, not the plan
Organizations too often work toward a planning document that remains static — and often in desk drawers for extended periods of time. The better approach is one of continuous planning, in which changing data feeds into existing assumptions, new patterns are discovered, and the appropriate steps can be taken. BI and data analytic systems are tools designed to do exactly that type of work. New data supplements old and the impact on trends and projections can be seen immediately.
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