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Three Keys to Getting Started with Business Intelligence

Three Keys to Getting Started with Business Intelligence

Regardless of the size of the staff or membership or the type of organization, there has been an ever-increasing amount of discussion about business intelligence (BI) and how BI can help drive a wide-variety of an association’s business and member-specific objectives. BI encompasses the tools (ex. Dashboards and data visualizations) that use an organization’s data to improve business decisions and performance. For an association, that could mean, in real-time, identifying and investing in the best performing channels for membership recruitment and retention. And at the executive level, BI could help management track KPIs (key performance indicators) to equally improve top and bottom line revenue/growth metrics.

Today, many associations use dashboards to highlight a specific or focused set of data (ex. website traffic or financial transactions).  But, a true BI solution will connect otherwise disconnected data sets together to reveal new insights and provide new benefits at all levels of an organization. Better yet, an association management solution (AMS) with built-in analytics tools and BI functionality eliminates the need for associations to export—import data from various solutions, avoids lengthy and expensive integrations and ensures analysis is done with the most up-to-date data. 

Three areas associations should focus on to successfully execute an effective BI initiative include:

End User Needs Analysis

Historically, association reporting projects were focused on explaining and showing the current status of the association or department. For example, how many new memberships were sold in the past quarter. But data in a nice graph does not answer, in real-time, the key needs the staff or executive team may have or require to make a “smarter more informed” decision or promote further analysis of the data.  In many cases, the graph or report demonstrated what could have or should have been done to achieve a specific result—and by then, it is probably too late. A successful BI initiative provides access to the underlying data and identifies specific decision points that need to be improved to achieve the desired outcome.

Data Visualization + UX Design

A successful BI solution delivers the data needed to make a better decision at the right time and the right place. What this means for associations is the data is readily accessible to aid the processes that are used to execute decisions. For association staff, visualizations of key metrics (ex. an engagement score) can be inserted within an individual’s profile to quickly identify the type of member or prospect the staff may be interacting with.  Or, inserting a visual indicator on the individual or organization profile to indicate a metric has changed beyond a pre-determined threshold may help staff with a decision when interacting with the individual and/or their organization. And in today’s business climate, the ability to access, manipulate and share the data visualizations in a mobile-friendly, responsive environment is fast becoming a prerequisite.


The most critical requirement for a BI initiative to be successful is buy-in (especially at the senior management level). If the executive team does not fully commit to incorporating and using the BI tools as part of everyday decision making and if employees are not trained (and retrained!) on how to use the decision-making tools as part of their everyday activities, the best BI solution (and strategy) will likely become a mishmash collection of graphs, charts and pictures with little value.