Business intelligence (BI) is a field in fast transformation. To make use of the new possibilities, it is essential to have the right competence in the organisation.
Verisure, a Swedish provider of home security systems, began building its BI organisation about a year after the company was split off from Securitas in 2006.
It all started when managers from the countries in Verisure’s Northern European region flew to Copenhagen for an important budget meeting, according to Peter Lagergren, senior business controller at Verisure.
“We soon realised we interpreted things in different ways. For example, it could be that my definition of a cancelled customer wasn't the same as that of my colleagues. The same thing with the numbers – we all included different things. We had to cancel the meeting at lunch time – we realised we couldn't get any further,” says Lagergren.
The solution had multiple components: restructuring the data and implementing a common BI platform across the countries in the Northern European region; taking responsibility for the structure of the organisation; imposing common terms and definitions; implementing multi-country systems; and setting up a centralised structure for charts of accounts and cost centres.
Standardising business intelligence
A five-strong BI team – based in Sweden – was set up. The team has had much the same structure since the start, comprising three data warehouse specialists, one report developer and one team leader.
“Every time we start working on something new, like our data mining project, we get outside help from experts. They work for us for a few weeks each time, and then we handle the implementation ourselves,” says Lagergren.
More on the organisational design of business intelligence
Verisure also has user groups, consisting of business owners in the different countries, which are working and experimenting with the information given to them.
“They do their own analyses to drive their businesses. Requests regarding business development come to us via the management team, user groups or single users,” says Lagergren.
Verisure’s BI organisation can be considered a so-called business intelligence competency centre (BICC). That is, a cross-functional organisational team that has defined tasks, roles, responsibilities and processes for supporting and promoting the effective use of BI across an organisation.
But when Verisure built its BI organisation back in 2007, Lagergren hadn't yet heard the term BICC.
“A BICC can be almost as deep or as broad as you want it to be, and we tick all of the criteria boxes when we look at the definition of a BICC," he says.
“BICCs have become much more common during recent years. What was most important to us when we built our BI organisation was to have it business-driven and not placed under IT, since we are doing this for the business.”
When we built our BI organisation, it was important to us that is was business-driven and not placed under IT, since we are doing this for the business
Peter Lagergren, Verisure
Expanding BI capacity
Verisure’s BI is built on a solid and strong platform, which has made it possible to add new countries – for example, the UK – to the BI system, without the need to grow the BI team. But now Verisure is looking at taking BI to the next level, and then at least one more person will be needed, according to Lagergren.
“I think it will be hard to find the new competence we need. One of the people in our BI team recently left, and it wasn't easy to recruit a new person for that position. BI has developed and grown faster than the competence – it takes a while to get the new knowledge into the workforce.”
But Lagergren is confident that Verisure will eventually be able to find the right competence.
“The next step for us is to use BI more proactively. Until now we have mostly looked at what has already happened. For example, we want to be able to predict when a customer might be about to cancel his contract. We are already working with data mining, but we have to get the results into MicroStrategy, our BI tool,” he says.
Since BI is a field in fast transformation, it is important to keep the level of competence up to date in the BI organisation through continuous training, according to Lagergren.
“It’s also important to look at how other companies are doing BI. Through comparing, we can see what we are doing well and what we are doing badly.”
Doing this, Lagergren has also noted some BI traits typical of companies in Scandinavia: “We often tend to work harder on pushing out information to several different levels of the company. If you compare with, for example, the US, they are often more focused on getting the information to top management.”
But when it comes to the organisational design side of business intelligence, Lagergren’s impression is that the structure depends more on the type of company than on the geography.
Metal powder company Höganäs gains BI precision
Anna Henriksson, manager of BI at Swedish metal powder producer Höganäs, has the same impression, and she can’t see anything typically Scandinavian with the way Höganäs has chosen to organise its BI team.
Höganäs, which develops and markets powders for customers in mainly component manufacturing industries, was founded in 1797, and began working with BI in 1997.
Centralising the BI organisation in Sweden gives us better control over the numbers and means everybody uses the same terminology
Anna Henriksson, Höganäs
“It has become more specific over time. In the beginning, the BI work was a bit fussy,” says Henriksson.
The BI team consists of three people, located in the tiny Swedish town of Höganäs, from which the company gets its name. The company has grown over the years, and the BI system has been advanced, but Höganäs has decided the keep the BI organisation centralised in Sweden.
“This way of working gives us better control over the numbers and means everybody uses the same terminology,” says Henriksson. “If every country had its own BI, we might, for example, be calculating profit in different ways. Keeping BI centralised also keeps costs down.”
BI as an IT function
The BI team is organised under IT, and has always been. The reason is simply that the team works with IT tools, and this way of organising is not something that has been discussed, according to Henriksson.
“But it is the business side that prioritises what we are to do, not IT. We have a governance board, which we use for both BI and the enterprise resource planning system.”
Höganäs’s organisation is divided in different processes – for example, sales, maintenance and finance – and one person from each process is on the governance board. Since the company is dispersed around the globe, each region also has a representative on the board, according to Henriksson.
“We also have users acting as co-ordinators, pulling in and aggregating requests from around the organisation. This structure was created in 2011. Earlier, the prioritising process wasn't that well defined – we tended to focus on the parts of the organisation that were most loud,” she says.
The difficulties of hiring BI specialists
Höganäs recently hired a data scientist – someone who combines statistical analysis, business analysis and coding to solve business problems. It was very hard to find the right person, according to Henriksson.
“Too few are educated in this field, and even when they are, that’s not enough. BI is tricky – you have to have some knowledge of companies also, and straight out of university you don't have that. If it’s hard to recruit BI people in Stockholm or London, it’s even harder in a small town like Höganäs,” she says.
More on BI skills
The company wanted to hire a local person who wouldn’t have to commute very far. It contracted a recruiting firm, but wasn't happy with the candidates offered.
“Then we ran an ad in the regional newspaper, and that got us the right person,” says Henriksson.
Höganäs is not planning to recruit any additional BI competence in the near future.
“We could always make use of more people, and more work hours, but it is a matter of cost. Our focus now is to work our way through the list of prioritised issues – we have an extensive backlog. We will continue development at the same time, of course,” she says.
The most important thing the BI team has accomplished so far is to enable users to report faster, according to Henriksson.
“We have also made it possible for the users to get a better insight into their numbers. For example, they can see the total stock value. This enables them to follow up and discuss the business in a much better way,” says Henriksson.