Agile BI plays catch-up
Business intelligence can deliver insight at the speed-of-thought. However, as self-service tools and the bring-your-own device phenomenon permeate the organisation, BI requirements are outstripping the resources of the traditional information technology department.
“Now is the time for the implementation of BI to meet the demand for instant insight” says Sean Paine, COO of information solutions specialist, EnterpriseWorx. “BI implementation should take lessons from agile software development. By leveraging principles that have been prevalent in the software development community for some time, businesses will be able to get quick answers from their BI systems.
“As consumers, we have become accustomed to an instant world, where information is available on demand. Along with the unprecedented adoption of the iPad, we have become used to consuming content wherever and whenever we want it. Now we expect this in our corporate lives.”
Paine argues that, if the IT department takes three weeks to deliver a report, it’s too late. “Business needs IT to respond a lot quicker,” he says. “By using the principles of agile software development, BI can begin to catch up.”
Agile methodology evolved as a reaction to highly structured methods of software development, which were perceived as slow, bureaucratic and cumbersome. The Agile Manifesto, formulated in 2001, instead valued teamwork, continuous and rapid delivery of working software, customer collaboration and alignment with company goals.
“There is a common thread between BI deployment and software development,” says Paine. “In both cases, if the implementation is to work, it is crucial to involve business people. The BI tribe needs to borrow from its software brethren.
“At EWX we use adaptive development processes such as Scrum for managing BI implementation, testing and delivery. Rapid iterations can deliver high-quality results on a weekly basis and generate immediate answers needed for making business decisions.
“New technology makes it possible to take tasks from the IT department and put them in business users’ hands. Self-service tools give users the information they need when they need it. IT provides the infrastructure, but business people create their own analytics, dashboards and reports.
“Enterprises are increasingly allowing personal mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to connect to the enterprise network. According to the IDC, the use of employee-owned devices within the enterprise increased 10% worldwide between 2010 and 2011 worldwide. This trend is expected to continue over the next five years, fuelling the growth of self-service BI.
“The proliferation of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) in the hands of CEOs and CFOs has added to the pressure for top-down BI that tackles the needs of strategic decision makers. IT departments may still be in control of managing the process, but they are not leading it. Instead they are playing catch-up.”
A recent Forrester report suggests that relying too heavily on IT support for BI is not sustainable. BI requirements change faster than an IT-centric support model can keep up with, the report states. “Companies that let IT handle more than 20% of BI requirements will see requests pile up.”
Forrester rates important self-service BI capabilities as auto-modelling of raw data, the ability to create metrics on the fly, data virtualisation, exploration and discovery on raw data and collaboration between business users and IT staff.
“As these trends take hold and the market grows, BI is likely to become more widespread throughout the organisation, rather than being restricted to a few expert users,” says Paine. “If the IT department takes on the challenge of agile implementation, the goal of more pervasive, impactful BI may at last be realised. This should help organisations meet changing customer demands and stay ahead of the competition.”