Internal Surveys: A Fast, Free BI Tool and 5 Simple Keys to Using Them Effectively

As evidenced by the proliferation of business intelligence tools and vendors, the pursuit of metrics and data is essentially ubiquitous to businesses of every size and industry.  Gartner predicts business intelligence software revenue will reach $13.8 Billion in 2013, climbing to over $17 Billion in 2016 (Source: CMS article citing Gartner).  Given the macro-level uncertainty continuing to pervade economies worldwide and the already expansive recent growth in BI software (16 percent in 2011); this suggests that developing knowledge about the business continues to be a priority for companies.

Unsurprisingly, for every aspect of the business there is a vendor happy to sell you a tool to measure it.  While there is clear value for a robust business intelligence initiative (see Bryan Knops’ article about Business Intelligence in Banking), a focused internal survey offers a largely investment free tool to gain valuable knowledge.  By adopting some basic guiding principles and best practices, surveys can be a quick, effective tool, particularly for system administrators and process owners:

1) Define the areas to assess qualitatively, construct the questions quantitatively

  • While these may seem at odds, consider the example of a user survey assessing a recently implemented software or application.  The areas to assess may be:
    • Usability
    • Training Effectiveness
    • New Process Efficacy
  • Translating into quantitative questions, you may use numbered rating scales and phrase questions like “Please rate the extent to which you agree with the following statement: The training I received prepared me to…”  The goal is to produce metric results that may be measured, analyzed and used as an actionable baseline.

2) Focus on metrics, but do not fear free form entry – control it

  • While free form entry responses stray from the quantitative results goal, time permitting you will gain valuable insights from allowing respondents to respond in their own words; this can also boost responsiveness by demonstrating that their response will be read and valued
  • Most surveys, but likely all that allow free form response, should clearly note that respondents will be kept confidential, and that the survey is meant to assess a system or process, not the respondent
  • Narrow the feedback topic, to the extent this is feasible, to tie responses back to an assessment area

3) Don’t forget demographics

  • Beyond the ability to parse results based on basic information (location, job function, role, etc.), consider also including additional ways to qualify your respondents.  For example, rate prior knowledge of the system or process, how or if a respondent participated in training, company tenure, etc.

4) Strive for actionable results

  • Knowledge is only powerful if it leads to improvement initiatives; once baseline results are compiled, prioritize the assessment areas and develop plans to progress
  • This is not necessarily as daunting as it seems; the survey will likely clarify low resource, high value “Quick Win” opportunities to improve, as well as longer term efforts

5) Follow up

  • Use your survey as a quick way to develop baseline Key Performance Indicators, and measure results after executing the action items identified.  A well constructed survey can be reused for a follow up with minimal if any alterations, requiring only a distribution communication

Surveys may be particularly useful for a manager looking to demonstrate the value of investing in current state assessments and baseline KPI to Executives, or an IT manager seeking to implement a culture of viewing IT as a Service Provider rather than a troubleshooting (“No Help Desk”) or procurement source.

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Chicago, IL 60606
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