Business intelligence (BI) is arguably one of the more buzzworthy terms being used in business these days. But it's far more than the trend du juor. When implemented correctly, it enables organizations large and small to enhance operational efficiencies, the customer experience, and marketing, as well as identify how to remain ahead of the competition.

The challenge surrounding BI for most organizations, however, is knowing where to start. But like most large undertakings, it starts by architecting the infrastructure.

After all, when you break it down, BI is nothing more than "the information behind the business," as BI expert, Ken Costello, Director of Client Engagement with MST Solutions, refers to it. The key is to build a solid foundation based on a clearly defined purpose and strategy.

Is a BI infrastructure even necessary

Bottom line, it's near impossible to move your organization in the right direction without the right insights to guide decision making. But it's no longer just access to insights, it's company-wide access to that data in near real time that will prove a differentiator, particularly if you are to keep pace with the rate of change in today's on-demand economy.

Every organization --regardless of size--will benefit from some degree of BI. When implemented correctly, it helps make data collection more efficient, organizes it and provides visibility into key information across all stakeholders.

This means making the transition from spreadsheets and the convoluted web of systems, databases and documents currently prevalent in most organizations to a scalable, efficient BI architecture. In doing so, you'll eliminate the pitfalls that come with manual data entry --input error, missing data, and siloed data.

When you build a BI architecture properly, you're paving the way for all of your systems (CRM, marketing automation, ERP, etc.) to be united and share information so that everyone within the organization can make sense of it.

Quality and strategy reign supreme

A recent survey of more than 3,000 business leaders found BI priorities of today are "data quality and master data management." This is because most organizations are sitting on a mountain of data coming in from numerous sources --CRMs, website analytics, social listening tools, and even one-to-one communication with customers. The challenge is no longer how to collect data, but determining what data actually matters.

This is where a solid BI infrastructure designed around your organization's purpose and strategy will mean the difference between something that becomes a differentiator for your company versus busy work. For example, if customer experience is a key initiative, BI can help portray the narrative of your customer's journey and uncover pain points, where you're most likely to lose them and all of the emotional ups and downs a customer experiences with your brand. It can also expose inefficiencies, and open your eyes to the areas in which you're not getting ROI so you can work to improve it.

Rethink the order

When many organization's start their BI planning, they start with data sourcing. But this should come secondary.

Instead, focus on developing your strategy, nailing down what exactly you want to fix and where exactly you want to go. Often, a service blueprint can be a good exercise to start with, as it takes into account people, process and systems.

"Once you have that higher-level strategy and understanding of where you're going, then it's time to source data," Costello said. "If it doesn't have some focus or alignment to strategy, it takes forever. Having a strategy helps to filter down the amount of data you'll have to sort through, and is a more accessible option for companies wanting to embark on BI but not able to dive all-in right off the bat."

After you get that area running efficiently and producing the results you want, you can expand your data sets and use the information you gather to support more of your decisions. But it'll be a gradual process that surely doesn't need to happen in one day -- or even one year. And as you slowly uncover important data points within your company, you can communicate them in real-time to the people who can use the information and act upon it.

And that's really the whole point: to connect the information behind the business with the people who are running the business, so the business thrives. After all, what's the point in collecting and storing data if you aren't able to actually do something with it?

Removing resistance

So now you might be bought into the logic of implementing a solid BI architecture, but as with most things in business -- you need your team to be on board too. But BI can be a tough sell.

"BI itself is abstract, but if you can provide real examples of how you can improve efficiencies or the customer journey -- that's how you get buy-in," Costello said.

Instead of telling your colleagues about the big picture of BI, find a small problem you want to solve --one that you'll be able to attach KPIs and metrics to. When you can illustrate your point with data and attach those data points to the company's vision, purpose and strategy, it makes this abstract sell more tangible.