Embracing BI, Data, and Analytics

On August 26th, I joined members of the Buffalo Azure Users Group for an online Teams meetup on how a global enterprise harnessed the power of Business Intelligence (BI), data collection, analytics, and reporting.

Business Intelligence reporting infrastructure delivers solid, accurate information directly into the hands of the end-users, right when they need it.

Looking to take the next step in its company-wide growth process, Aleron Group needed a future-proof, agile solution for gathering business data. The company sought to improve its ability to maintain and generate reports that meshed with both its current systems and technology stack by compiling data and generating vital metrics, analytics, and business intelligence.

Aleron Group has several silos of data for its multiple business units. One of the organization’s most prominent brands is Acara Solutions, a leading provider of talent and workforce solutions. Acara has a history of partnering with SmartSearch and developing purposeful solutions in recruitment data management.

In 2018, Aleron initiated a consolidated Business Intelligence reporting project. Project leaders Eric Brady, Director of Enterprise Applications, and Amanda Malecki, Manager of Data and Analytics, shared an eye-opening overview of how the organization leveraged Azure and Power BI to introduce and cultivate a potent business intelligence reporting infrastructure to produce efficient, timely, and accurate data across its global enterprise.

As the project came to fruition, greater access to business intelligence reporting delivered tremendous value to the organization’s overall strategy and operations.  These impacts included:

  • A significant reduction in manual reporting —one new report replaced 10 legacy reports that had previously been compiled within the data silos of individual business units
  • A progression from ad-hoc reporting to a reliance on more in-depth analytics across functional teams that greatly improved collaboration
  • More accessible and dynamic visual representations of data that replaced cumbersome and complicated Excel spreadsheets
  • A dramatic increase in predictive and forecasting power
  • Greater and more accessible insight across the enterprise for data-driven decision-making

The project also increased SmartSearch’s application performance and recruiting KPI analysis. One report showed measurements of candidate source by effectiveness over time including sourcing on Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and Zip Recruiter, whether it was recruiter searches versus job posting response. The ability to pull and consolidate important metrics helped “slice and dice” the data. This enabled Acara to not only take an even more consultative approach when advising its clients but allowed the company to convey a more compelling story about Aleron’s wide-ranging service offerings.

The presentation provided insights on Aleron’s process for selecting a cloud provider, solution partners, and visualization tools.

Both Eric and Amanda stressed that for a project of this size, change management must begin early in the process. From the project’s initial launch, it was apparent that stakeholder buy-in was crucial for success. The project development team conducted extensive, in-depth conversations with top-level executives, internal IT team leaders, and outside vendor partners including SmartSearch, SAP, and MS Dynamics. These discussions helped in building the framework for a higher level of reporting while laying the groundwork for creating trust—both in the process and in the data. In addition, Aleron’s vendor partners were actively engaged to help guide and validate IT design ideas prior to development.

Due to its ease-of-use and alignment with the company’s existing technology, Aleron’s project development team decided to utilize MS Power BI as its consolidated reporting platform. Aleron constructed a “star schema” to outline how to best extract and organize exported data sets from multiple sources that would enable maximum flexibility. Outreach to vendor partners was a pivotal part in meeting the challenges of moving information from different data sources to the Power BI Data Warehouse. The process helped identify reporting gaps between the data silos of the different business units. In addition, key project members were able to find new data sets that could monitor, measure, and model the drivers of productivity, performance, profitability, and product delivery.

As the project enhanced data architecture, data modeling, and merging data exported from various sources, the Aleron team worked extensively with its vendor partners. In conversing with subject matter experts—including SmartSearch IT Manager Colin Craig (a.k.a. The Magician)—the company identified data that was to be extracted for compilation into the enterprise reporting platform.

Around the world, organizations have increased their reliance on data and analytics throughout the enterprise. While the pace of adoption varies, most analysts agree that now is the time to start learning how to adapt and use BI.

“Now that we have this powerful new BI reporting structure in place, it’s opened up new worlds for consolidated business intelligence to drive our organization’s growth and deliver better results for our clients,” said Eric Brady. “We have gained insights into our own business that weren’t previously possible.”

“The next step will be to develop additional ‘self-service’ tools to empower end-users with tools that enable management to make more accurate predictions and be more proactive in our approach to managing our business—from local offices to our global enterprise,” added Amanda Malecki. “Another goal is using the new data to keep Aleron and our clients ahead of the curve with market intelligence.”

The program concluded with a Q&A session, along with recommendations on how Azure Users can accelerate their own BI technology transformation.

Aleron has made the presentation materials available. Click here to view.