How to champion business intelligence in remote teams

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken up the way we work – and the seismic shifts it has brought about could be long-lasting. According to a Gartner survey, 74% of CFOs intend to shift some of their employees to remote work permanently.

As remote work affects the dynamics both on the team and operational levels, collaborative software for business intelligence (BI) and data analytics becomes more valuable than ever. Not only does it provide remote teams with unprecedented capabilities, but it also inspires an essential step toward a more data-driven company culture – one that all organisations should consider taking.

Getting from raw data to meaningful insights is a long journey. So, how can you make it a smooth one?

A new era of data

Apart from novel capabilities, the advent of modern web-based data analytics and BI tools brought another benefit. Previously, it was common for employees to face obstructions when accessing data – perhaps they had to file requests with administrators, or source databases weren’t regularly updated, or even technical challenges like the data being too large for Excel to handle. Many of these problems were successfully eradicated with modern BI tools through dashboards and reports that can be refreshed on a schedule and handle higher data volumes. These tools allow companies to put data directly into the hands of their employees to use for their specific purposes effectively, rather than be subject to the bandwidth constraints of overworked data-wrangling teams. 

Organisations have increasingly recognised the utmost importance of data: The BI and analytics software market has grown to over $54bn and is predicted to expand further by 11.2% CAGR until 2022. It’s no longer acceptable to guess; decisions made without reasonable backing – especially when affecting revenue, costs, or risk – don’t cut it anymore.

Not having data to support your decisions will ultimately lead to questions you’re not going to be able to answer. BI and data analytics can lead you out of the information darkness – if you implement tools with modern features and powerful collaborative capabilities that complement the needs of your team.

Remote doesn’t mean alone

It’s believed that 77% of remote workers get more done in fewer hours – mostly thanks to fewer distractions, and 76% of employees say they prefer to avoid their office completely when needing to concentrate on a project.

Remote work inherently encourages more formalised processes. You can’t just stop by someone’s desk to ask for a piece of data – there needs to be a centralised ecosystem that ensures everyone involved in the process has all the information they need. As counterintuitive as it may sound, bringing people together can actually be easier in remote settings. 

This goes hand-in-hand with analytics, which is also a deeply collaborative process. Being able to work with multiple people on the same data and participate in group analysis encourages diverse perspectives and generates more accurate insights. Advanced BI and analytics tools allow remote teams to explore data together, trace and track analyses, and pinpoint relevant insights – all in one interface.

By leveraging web-based tools, you bring access to everyone and eliminate the need to transfer files via email, making your entire analytics process simpler and faster. Added to that, such software allows you to draw from the strengths of everyone in your analytics teams. More data-savvy team members can help with loading, cleaning, and transforming the data to make it as digestible as possible, while those on the business side can work to generate relevant insights that will drive better business decisions. 

Leading with a robust data management strategy

Implementing modern BI and analytics tools doesn’t require rebuilding your whole data infrastructure. Even though these tools are fed by the data you have, they can also help you define your strategy further. You don’t want to build a castle and realise that what you needed was a three-bedroom house. Avoid investing millions of dollars in complex data infrastructures upfront and focus on quick, impactful wins. 

Understanding your processes and the dynamics of your remote team goes a long way. Know that there’s no such thing as “the perfect data management strategy” – you can’t copy another business, even if they are similar from an industry standpoint. Every organisation has a different data culture, skill sets, and level of data literacy. 

Start by running pilot groups. Focus on solving a specific business problem and see what the process was all the way from data acquisition to the generation of insights that drive a decision. Assessing how these pilot groups work can give you an idea about the number of data sources, the types of data needed, data cleaning requirements, the complexity of transformations and business logic, and which parts of the process worked well in a remote setting. Then, use these insights to inspire a data management strategy that corresponds to your specific needs. This strategy will help you serve business users more quickly while minimising costs.

Every person’s journey with data is different. It’s our job to enable, educate, and empower business leaders to use data to drive better decisions. Data itself is irrelevant – it’s just bits and bytes. Unless you have the business understanding to turn that data into information and the information into insights, you can’t drive better decisions and better outcomes for your business. So while you’re dreaming of pristine data lakes, don’t lose sight of what’s important – investing in people first and technology second.