The search for new ways to be of value to their members certainly keeps associations busy, as they hope to turn the tide of their dwindling membership numbers. It’s a difficult undertaking in which it’s easy to get stuck or wander off course. At the recent annual congress of De Nederlandse Associatie (DNA, an association of, for and by associations), the topics discussed included ways to utilise the unique culture of your association in the search for value. There is a demand for guidance and tools. We’re pleased, based on our expertise, to present just such a tool: Business Intelligence. Powerful and ready-to-use.
Like many other organisations, associations are at risk of being caught off guard by rapidly emerging changes such as individualism, the participation society and technology. The desires and behaviours of their members are changing at lightning speed. In such a dynamic setting, staying well-informed is crucial. It allows you to keep a finger on what’s currently driving members and to respond effectively to their latest desires.
Using data and Business Intelligence is an obvious choice. But first, we must dispense with a misconception. In recent years, many organisations have opted for a reasonably ‘traditional’ structure in which all data was stored in a central data warehouse, effectively managed and maintained by the IT department. If the business wants an analysis, they contact a specially trained unit to provide one. Today, this ‘ideal’ version of traditional Business Intelligence is gradually becoming outdated. The problem is that the number of analyses is limited. Which is why a new ideal exists.
Unlimited analysis and experimentation
In a perfect world, every employee could experiment endlessly with his or her own insights. On their own, at their own work station, whenever an idea occurred to them. This would allow every idea in the entire organisation – whether a carefully crafted plan or no more than a hunch – to be explored and evaluated. One person, for instance, might want to investigate a possible connection between your member data and socio-demographic details such as household composition or marriage status. Or between member data and socio-economic data regarding income, education level and profession. Another employee could, in turn, delve into historical data to find a link with certain life events or seasonal influences. Each and every idea is explored and might potentially yield fascinating insights. Both independently and taken in combination. This can quickly result in new insights concerning your members as well.
Self-Service Business Intelligence
With Self-Service Business Intelligence, this ideal becomes a reality. It’s a method in which IT continues to monitor your members’ dataset, but analyses are conducted by a wide range of employees instead. These employees can then experiment as much as they like from the comfort of their own workstations. With just a bit of insight, it becomes fairly straightforward. Although you naturally have the option of providing training or supervision.
Here’s how Self-Service BI works:
- The IT department supplies a modelled dataset;
- The employee then goes in search of (free or paid) sources providing data that might add value to your dataset;
- The employee integrates the external data in a model;
- He or she links the two datasets together;
- He or she creates formulas to analyse the data and yield insights;
- Then the employee begins their analysis and investigates to confirm their hypothesis;
- If this process yields valuable insights, he or she will share them with everyone right away.
Changing the game for associations
While this working method might sound overly utopian, it is easier to achieve than you might think. This is because Microsoft offers ready-to-use software solutions. Part of their ‘Power BI’ – which has earned praise from Gartner and others – is the ‘Power BI desktop’. This is updated every month with new functionalities for conducting basic and advanced analyses. Several solid features have been introduced in recent months which allow users to take advantage of Self-Service BI. If you ask me, each and every one of these developments is a game-changer for associations:
- Easily retrieving other datasets via the Power BI Desktop.
- Quick, ready-to-use measurements for frequently applied analyses.
- Conveniently share dashboards and reports with colleagues via apps.
Imagine that a number of your employees begin using these tools and trying out their own ideas. In that case, you’d quickly gain richer, more in-depth insight into your members’ behaviour and desires. Insight that would provide direction for your association. From that point on, you would be aware of your members’ current desires and in a position to anticipate and respond to them flexibly. That kind of change is a continual process, as desires are constantly changing. With Power BI, on the other hand, you know when to change and how. Which makes you valuable in the long term.
There are certain risks as well. It is a misconception that all employees will be able to begin using Self-Service BI without support, and that their efforts will immediately result in valuable insights. Experience with our clients has shown us that it can be a good idea to:
- Focus on encouraging employees’ curiosity;
- Establish the ‘quick learners’ as BI experts within the company;
- Share knowledge via internal workshops involving real business cases;
- Create a ‘playground’ where beginners can be unafraid to try.
Would you like to know more?
- To learn more on applying Business Intelligence in your organisation, visit our website.
- More information on Microsoft’s Power BI is available via their community.
If you have questions concerning BI solutions in Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations, we warmly encourage you to get in touch with us. I would enjoy the opportunity to help you overcome your specific challenges.
Business Intelligence consultant
+31 (0) 35 655 44 33