Boosting BI beyond the basics
Business intelligence is becoming more pervasive, but many organisations are not yet getting the full benefits of an enterprise-wide system to help executives keep their fingers on the pulse of mission-critical activities.
“Several recent global research surveys show that BI remains one of the top information technology initiatives for companies,” says Sean Paine, COO of information solutions specialist, EnterpriseWorx. “However, in many cases, BI is simply a reporting mechanism, rather than one that has a strategic role in the company. BI adoption is often stuck at lower levels of maturity, simply churning out standard departmental reports.”
A recent DecisionPath survey in the USA found that 64% of IT and business professionals equate BI and analytics with traditional reporting. Only a third viewed BI as a strategic or mission-critical management tool. Some 70% of respondents indicated that BI was being used in more than one department, but only 10% had any formal enterprise-wide BI governance in place.
“In the early stages of BI, information is primarily exploited by power users equipped with spreadsheets who exert tremendous control over the content and dissemination of information,” says Paine.
“A siloed approach to BI still prevails. Lines of business tend to create their own data stores or ‘spreadmarts’ with little formal IT / business co-ordination. Most stakeholders know BI can help with day-to-day operations, but are unclear as to the benefits of forecasting trends and identifying potential issues and bottlenecks that can be achieved through enterprise-wide BI.”
According to Paine, most organisations are currently in ‘BI adolescence’, marked by unstable funding, mediocre usage and the continued presence of spreadmarts – the tendency that spreadsheets have to ‘run amok’ in organisations. Typically a spreadmart is created by individuals at different times using different data sources and rules for defining metrics, creating a fractured view of the enterprise.
“This haphazard data collection can lead to incorrect conclusions and decisions that are way off the mark,” says Paine. “The first gulf to overcome is the move from spreadsheets to data marts. This demands a considerable investment in time and funding. However, once you have reached that point, at marginal additional expense you can increase the value of BI in the organisation at an exponential rate. This involves the move to a data warehouse and finally to an enterprise data warehouse.”
In the past, this could be a slow, laborious process. However, newer BI tools such as QlikView allow for seamless evolution from departmental to enterprise BI. This makes it possible to move from islands of data to a consolidated, integrated environment where all relationships are shown – data relationships and business relationship between the verticals in the organisation and across the value chain. In this way, it is possible to improve data management not only within departments, but also across the organisation to boost operational effectiveness, revenue and profitability.
“Getting to this point depends on buy-in from business professionals,” Paine adds. “The establishment of a business intelligence competency centre (BICC) is the best way of achieving this. The BICC is a cross-functional team, representing business and IT disciplines. It addresses the strategic objectives of BI in the organisation, and develops a framework for moving through the various phases of BI to maturity.
“The main roles of the BICC are to obtain executive sponsorship and to ensure that project governance is in place for all BI initiatives. Another of its roles is to promote communication across different departments in the organisation to prevent the creation of new BI silos. Unless these fundamental building blocks are in place, an enterprise-wide BI initiative is unlikely to succeed. “An integrated approach to technology and processes as well as organisational culture and people is essential for a BI initiative to develop to maturity. Only then will it serve as an enterprise resource that delivers strategic insights that boost business performance and profitability.”