One way I like to think about the different aspects of “business intelligence” is as an organizational scorecard. It helps to maintain a mental model of what you’re doing and why when prioritizing investments of time or money.

On this scorecard, the rows represent analytical competencies of growing sophistication from top to bottom. I classify these competencies as:

  1. Instrumentation / Warehousing – can you measure things, and can you store that data in a clean, retrievable format?
  2. Reporting – can you get the data out of your warehouse and into the hands of people who can use it?
  3. Analytics – can you add value to raw data with analytics, benchmarks, etc.?
  4. Strategic Impact – do the results of your data and analysis impact the direction of the organization in a meaningful, accretive way?

The columns represent different functional areas of relevance to your organization. For our purposes, I use ‘Application Health/Ops’, ‘Support’, ‘Financial’, ‘Marketing’, ‘Retention’, and ‘Product Usage’. This taxonomy isn’t completely clean, and there’s some overlap, but they’re roughly distinct areas.

When you draw this grid out, you end up with something that looks like the below.

I’ve drawn my columns in what I generally think of as increasing long-term strategic importance. Every column on here is critically important, but our long-term success comes from people getting value from using our products, and so I put that at the far right. You could make an argument for ordering them differently, but the general idea is the same.

My aspiration is always to spend most of my time and energy in the bottom right few boxes—doing analytics and having impact on things like retention and usage.

The reality is that in order for those to matter at all, you have to have rock solid instrumentation and reporting across the board, and some of the functional areas on the left side of the chart are more pressing – if your applications are falling over and you don’t know why, or your team is buried under thousands and thousands of support tickets, all the wonderful analytics in the world on usage probably won’t keep your company heading in the right direction.

Take a minute and give your organization a letter grade in each of these boxes. Think about what you would have given yourself in each box a year or two ago, and where you’d like to be a year or two from now. Have you made progress? Do you still have work to do?