More often than not, when an Enterprise considers a new BI Strategy, that strategy starts, and sometimes ends, with a reporting tool selection process.
Based primarily on new and improved reporting tools, with all the bells and whistles, Senior Executives and managers tend to converge on products that offer responsive high level metrics on the go.
There is, of course, another exercise in providing the foundation that supports the pointy end of the iceberg. The underlying data modelling, collection, management, and processing, often forms the stodgy, unappetising portion of the project pie, that’s hard to sell to business stakeholders. After all, what’s appealing about re-visiting business processes and modelling product hierarchies? Or even worse, working through abstract concepts like date and time dimensionality with the IT department? The coup de grâce though, lays in the costs associated with those questions, often before there’s a dashboard, cross-tab, or even proof of concept in sight; that offers some tangible benefit to the business.
Dear reader, at this point of time let me unreservedly throw in the towel and separate the combatants! I should quickly point out that in no way was my intention to set the Business in the blue corner, IT in the red, and infer never the twain shall meet. On the contrary, In BI projects, more than any other, it is essential the veil between business stakeholders and technology enablers is whisper thin. Almost by process of osmosis, the very best business stakeholders make it their business to deliver robust and articulate requirements to the BI project team, whilst the best BI practitioners strive to understand standard and industry specific business concepts.
A change is as good as a holiday… for a week or two…
When business and BI specialists fail to align, the result is generally a number of segmented solutions. Small silos of data that exist in technically savvy business Access databases and Excel spread sheets become the norm rather than the exception, and under that scenario de-facto reporting super-users within the business can become the first point of call when decision making requires support. So what’s wrong with that?! Well to be honest, this type of behaviour is often born out of necessity.
The time to turn a Business question into an answer can often be unwieldy, and it’s generally the impromptu questions that require an expedient response. The issue is that we never have a consolidated version of the truth, or a solid foundation for future growth. I have seen organisations (generally smaller ones), that manage to negotiate these spot fires relatively well, there tends to be a general cycle of smaller projects, that more or less fail or succeed, encourage little or no excitement around new reporting opportunities, and entrench biases to particular reporting/database/ETL products that are better or worse than other products. The effect of these cycles on the business though can do irreparable damage to perception, uptake and iterative improvement of business intelligence in general.
Put your hand up if you’ve ever heard the term “Business Intelligence” and “Oxymoron” uttered in the same sentence by an end user! Well let’s start to work on a suitable retort!
Enter the Enterprise BI Strategy
So who can drive synergy between the Business, their data and the toolset that makes it useful? More often than not, this can be a group of people, but principally this sits with a CIO. BI could want for no greater champion than the CIO. Someone typically responsible for the provision of IT platforms to solve business problems (the microcosm of which conveniently looks a lot like an enterprise wide business intelligence system), is perfectly placed to drive a unified platform for disseminating information on which to base business decisions. The greatest visibility of underlying technology platforms, and the greatest responsibility to the CEO, and greater business community, generally combine in the greatest Business Intelligence interest!
“A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.” – Albert Einstein
So now we know who, let’s get to the what! I read an article recently that looked at some of the challenges faced by a CIO in perfecting a BI Strategy.
These days there’s very little resistance to implementing some form of BI, so with all this good will, how come the most desired results are so elusive? Are the right people in your enterprise receiving the right information in a timely fashion? In my experience, without an adequate BI strategy the answer is uniformly no.
Sure, weigh the eggs, paint the basket, but don’t put them all in just yet…
So far in this article I’ve generally referred to “The Project”, and for ease, we always have to start somewhere, but the reality is a BI strategy is unlike a project, it’s not a once off activity. Both the BI environment and its governing strategy need to evolve and grow with the business and its requirements. The challenge here is developing a strategy that accommodates for growth.
To get some predictive metrics on growth we can look at existing BI usage, but that’s only part of the picture. It makes sense from a process point of view, to tie system development and its potential requirement for additional reporting back to the BI environment.
Enterprise BI Strategies by and large, accommodate the existing business units, and specifically target their growth. This is a pretty fair assumption. Finance, Marketing, Sales, HR etc., are a fairly safe bet in most organisations and we can make some rational decisions about the depth of growth along this structural tree, but don’t discount growth across its breadth as well. Special projects can come along and organisational restructures are common, so it’s worth giving some thought. More importantly here is where CIO visionary planning becomes critical.
- What does your organisation look like today?
- What will it look like in a year?
- What will it look like in 10 years?
Solid architectural principles tell us that building a modular, iterative BI environment is a way to cater to all those questions, but what does that actually mean today? Traditionally, this meant conforming as many dimensions as possible, catering for different levels of aggregation to boost reporting performance and providing as much business self-service as you can cater for. Some of the newer advancements in technology, like in-memory processing for example, challenge some of these tenets, making it increasingly hard to pin down technology, the toolsets and their importance. Either way, for me, specific technologies have no place in a Enterprise BI Strategy, more important to keep them on the periphery, to constantly challenge and drive value in delivery performance.
“I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side. ” – Steven Wright
IBM’s 2011 Global CIO Study shows that the number one visionary planning activity, among CIO respondents from over 70 countries and 18 industries, is Business Intelligence and analytics, at number 4, a rapid uptake of cloud planning. If we look at these things in isolation I think we do ourselves a disservice. Whether these two things go hand in hand at the moment is a question beyond the scope of this article, but it highlights a couple of things:
- There is a need to provide a broader and more responsive array of meaningful business analytics, and this comes out of Enterprise BI Strategy, that caters for growth.
- Cloud computing has been identified as a way of creating scalable solutions ideal for growth, in terms of infrastructure/platform as a service.
Let’s not hinge our entire Strategy on Cloud based services just yet, but there are clearly some exciting correlations between those synergies, only enhanced by the advancements in in-memory processing, and thin reporting clients that are scalable over a number of “on the go” distribution methods.
- Developing an all-encompassing BI Enterprise Strategy is a way of:
- Providing the right people in your organisation with the right information at the right time.
- Catering for growth.
- CIO engagement is critical for success.
- BI Strategy is a living, evolutionary process.
- Technology is purely an enabler for your strategy that can continue to drive its value.
(original author: Brad Riley)