How Media Companies Should Get Started with Business Intelligence

There has been much discussion in the media space about business intelligence (BI) and how it can help drive a host of key objectives. BI encompasses the tools (usually dashboards) that use a company’s data to improve business decisions and performance. For a publisher, that could mean helping, in real-time, journalists focus on content categories that bring in the biggest audience and/or the greatest revenue. It could help the marketing team identify and invest in their best performing digital/social channels. BI could help management track KPIs throughout the organization more efficiently (key performance indicators). And though many publishers have dashboards that provide a very focused set of data (like Chartbeat or Google Analytics), a true BI solution ties otherwise disconnected data sets together, revealing new insights and providing new benefits at all levels of an organization.

Attaining this level of benefit is not, as some vendors will promise, as easy as turning on a new tool. Displaying information in a dashboard is relatively simple, but integrating that dashboard into the process of making decisions in order to improve them — now that’s hard. It requires a great deal of work to be done. Here are 5 areas publishers should focus if they want to develop effective BI systems:

End User Needs Analysis

Very often, BI projects are focused on explaining and showing the current status of the company or department: how many unique visitors the site had yesterday or how many ads sold in the past week. But data in nice graphs doesn’t necessarily answer the key needs a user may have. When building an internal BI solution, it is important to clearly identify which business units can benefit and what specific decision points need to be improved.

Why? Because if end users do not get clear answers that can help them better fulfill their goals within the company, they are going to become very quickly disinterested. For example, a journalist would like to know what topics are typically the most successful during a specific time of the year and a marketer would like to know how to best promote a particular piece of content. Answering these types of questions would drive addictive value, meaning users would want to use the BI solution.

Data Collection

Most established businesses rely on a combination of homegrown and third-party systems and tools to run the day-to-day operations, from finance and HR to editorial and marketing. Knowing where an organization’s data is held does not necessarily mean it’s available. While recent tools may allow easy exporting of your data, many legacy systems require development time to make the data available. And when the data is finally available, it needs to be cleaned to be usable for business intelligence. That process can be painstakingly lengthy but is critical if a business wants to get coherent results in reporting.

Visualization, Dashboard and UX Design

A great BI solution delivers the data needed to make a better decision at the right time and the right place. Ideally, this means that the information is provided as part of the systems and processes that are used to execute the decision. This helps greatly in adoption. For a publisher, the system at hand may be the ad trafficking portal or the CMS (content management solution). When integration is not possible, companies rely on standalone dashboards. In either case, the end user needs to be able to:

  1. Clearly understand the data that is being provided to them
  2. Easily get how this helps a particular decision that they have to make
  3. Offer reminders (delivered by in-system alert, SMS and/or email) when a KPI has changed beyond a certain threshold set by the user
  4. Be legible and usable on a mobile platform.

Tool Selection and Integration

Nearly every SAAS (software as a service) tool used by a company today offers a dashboard (e.g. Salesforce, Google Analytics, Facebook Business). You also have a long list of dashboard specific tools (e.g. Domo, Tableau) and BI solutions by systems integrators (e.g. Microsoft, IBM). Deciding amongst these can be tricky and will depend largely on the scope of the project, your organization’s budget, technical resources and ability, data (its state and size), and the deadline for completing the initial version. The chosen solution, whether it is built internally, purchased from a third party, or a combination of both, must answer the following questions:

  • Can it easily integrate with key third-party data that may become important long after the tool/system has been setup?
  • Is the underlying data used to populate the graphs hosted by the tool/system or elsewhere? If hosted by the system, can users create on-the-fly visualizations?
  • After the tool/system is up and running, how easy is it to build a visualization? Does it require a developer or can a business person create a new graph to add to the existing dashboard?
  • Will it support UX demands in terms of visualizations and functionality (like triggers)?


The most critical requirement for any BI tool/system to be successful is buy-in. Buy-in from management and employees alike. If the continuous search for improvement is not at the core of a company’s culture, if management agrees to putting in place a BI solution without fully understanding the importance and the level of commitment needed to make such an investment successful, if employees are not trained, and retrained on how to incorporate and use these decision-support tools into their everyday workflow, then the best BI solution will not amount to much more than a nice set of colorful graphs.

David Renard has 20+ years of international strategy, product management, marketing, analytics and consulting experience with a focus on digital and media/publishing. He has built startups in the media and tech space (Stare, Netcirculation, Mediaideas, The Loadown) and advised both multinationals (e.g. Gartner, Reliance Games, Random House, Conde Nast) and start-ups (e.g. Surface Media, V Magazine, Complex, 7Park Data) on corporate strategy, performance analytics and business intelligence, pricing, digital/social marketing and audience development.