The 5 W's of Business Intelligence

Start with THE 5 W’s – Who, What, Where, When and Why – if you want to be successful with BI

Want to turn numbers into knowledge in your organization? The 5 W's you learned years ago are 100% applicable to your Business Intelligence (BI) strategy! We recommend starting with Who, What, Where, When & Why if you want to be successful with business intelligence (BI).

WHO Are Your Users?

Any BI project must start with your key audience(s) in mind!

In a recent BI project for a client, our first move was to specify who the users were – both internal and external – and then determine the information and insight that they desired.

Internally, we contacted nearly every department across the organization and asked the senior leaders – the CFO, CIO, CMO, and others – to ask some fundamental questions.

  • Who are the key audiences for the project?
  • How were they using data and reports that they get today?
  • What was on their wish list?

A lot of insights came from these interviews, not to mention that they communicated a message of impending change.

We also identified external stakeholders who had important reporting requirements and information needs. Don’t forget the key constituents outside of your organization! In this case, that included the board of directors, bankers, members, ecosystem partners and sponsors. Their needs became a phase 2 in the overall deployment plan.

These initial discussions helped build buy-in and consensus. We assured everyone interviewed that the BI project would help deliver solutions to their daily information needs.

Even more important, the discussions were critical for driving cultural change, transparency and accountability around the key goals for the immediate year

WHAT Insights Do They Need?

“What” is all about the insights that must be provided to each audience. We recommend starting with your strategic plan and yearly initiatives and asking each group how they contribute to the overall success. You must look to translate the broad strategic goals into actionable key performance indicators. These indicators also must be in sync up, down and across the organization. 

For our client, the interviews to determined what questions each team needed to answer to understand if they are making progress. We drove consensus on KPIs to ensure that the BI solution and new dashboards all meshed with their strategic goals and supported their mission. We were able to determine up front what was important to monitor and what was less important.

WHERE is the Information Located?  –

You should think about “where” on three different levels for a BI project:

  1. Where does the data come from?
  2. Where should it come together and be stored?
  3. Where does it need to be presented to the users?

Let’s tackle each of these in turn.

The first important “where” is about locating your data sources. Where does the information reside that you need to answer the key questions for each audience? Typically, we have found that the information is scattered across the organization – in legacy systems, servers, local drives, emailed documents and in a worst case, printed material. You need to identify the sources to figure out how to wrangle the data.

The second important “where” is all about where to bring the data together so you have one source of the truth. To build a data warehouse or not to build a data warehouse is a big question that many of our clients ask. Whether a data warehouse is really necessary could be the topic of an entire blog, but for most projects, you can keep data in your current systems to start. An effective BI solution will pull it through as needed – and give you a unified view.

The third important “where” is all about where users go to access the intelligence. Today, you need to think beyond just distributing reports and spreadsheets via e-mail. Habitual reliance on e-mail may be the biggest hurdle to moving into a dashboard presentation of your data.  

A central, secure portal site beats constantly sending files back and forth. Users must have specific rights, depending on who they are and what they need. Furthermore, many users are probably offsite and on the road, so you need to consider mobile phones and tablets. Intelligence needs to be centralized, but accessible from anywhere.

WHEN Should Data Be Refreshed?  

While BI tools can show data in real time, that doesn’t mean that they should for all KPIs. Is a right-now, real-time refresh needed for every single bit of data you want to show?

Not all key performance data can be refreshed instantaneously – every organization has a different business rhythm and cadence for reporting. You need to think about how often you need updates and how often they are meaningful:

  • Is it important to have some of the dashboards refreshed at given interval during the day?
  • Or, because the nature of the underlying data, is it best to set the refresh to real-time? 

Either way, your Dashboard may have a mixture of real-time or sporadically refreshed gauges to view you daily/ weekly/ monthly, or yearly status. 

As an extreme case, one client generated a single yearly financial report as part of their year-end close. Only once a year! While the client had a strong financial position, that was not frequent enough to help the management team make better decisions. So speeding the financial reporting cycle was a major focus of our engagement.

Although there are some limits, especially around a financial month end close, you can have much of your BI in real time.

Just keep in mind that there can be a cost for speed. What is the effort required to accelerate reporting cycles, particularly if it requires manual intervention, such as account reconciliation by the finance team?

WHY Do You Need that Information?

Not all information or insights are equal. So it’s necessary to challenge everyone’s assumptions about what information is important in a BI project. Just because something can be reported doesn’t mean it must! There’s an inherent risk of over-complication and loosing key insights in a haystack of dials, graphs and tables on a dashboard.

We find that as you begin to prototype dashboards and share with prospective users, their perspective evolves. Seeing the information in front of them will spur new ideas on “what” is really important. That’s when it is good to reassess and reiterate. That is why most dashboard projects are agile, iterative and evolving. You discover what you really want to measure along the way.

Our recommendation – always ask three “whys” before setting a KPI. Test to see if the dashboard design and KPIs link back to the organizational strategy. You might be surprised at the rationale, or even find a new, even more important metric.

Business Intelligence Bliss

The metrics that stand this test must rise to the top of your dashboards.


What’s that the old saying… “knowledge is power?”

BroadPoint's BI solution for this client included centralized, accessible dashboards with member data, revenues and at-a-glance financial analysis. We gave them a whole new menu of data and the ability to measure progress against their mission-critical KPIs. Our client now has the power to know specifically how they are helping their stakeholders.

You too can use the 5W’s to guide you to BI success. Having relevant information at your fingertips will exponentially increase your team’s ability to deliver on your organization’s strategy and mission.


We would welcome your feedback and thoughts on this approach. Have you applied the 5W’s to your BI project? Furthermore, do you have a finger on the pulse of your KPI’s? BroadPoint can help.

P.S. Just an additional note on Strategic Goals: According to a survey by Concord Leadership Group, “Nonprofit Sector Leadership Report," 29% of nonprofit organizations reported not having a strategic plan, and 19% of those that said they do have a plan said it’s not written down.” We ask you: if it's not written down, how can you measure it?

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