Organisations rely on a complex set of systems to manage the value chain. These range from supply chain management through inventory control, production, sales, transportation and logistics to customer relationship management.
For these processes to be co-ordinated and operate efficiently, data flowing from different business processes must be integrated so as to provide a single view of the business.
Without commitment from the business, ‘reporting sprawl’ can result, with contradictions between reporting systems. Business intelligence (BI) systems gives organisations the ability to report consistently across the entire business, producing one set of numbers and generating ‘one version of the truth’. However, achieving this takes strategic alignment between business executives and the information technology (IT) department, and that’s a people issue, not a technology issue.
The first step in implementing BI is to make it a business project, not an IT project. It’s important to define the strategic objectives of the organisation, decide which business drivers are critical for achieving these, and then derive key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring progress.
However, according to the Gartner research group, many organisations lack the skills for implementing, managing and supporting cross-functional BI projects. If they have the skills, these may be spread throughout the organisation, with priorities placed on efforts other than BI. The results are projects that do not achieve their full potential and that may cause a great deal of organisational strife.
The best way of achieving success is to establish a business intelligence competency centre (BICC). This is a cross-functional team representing business and IT disciplines, which takes a structured approached to maximise BI initiatives.
As early as 2001, Gartner said the BICC is essential to an enterprise’s BI strategy. It can effectively address critical challenges such as staffing, planning and resource acquisition.
Why then has the concept of the BICC been slow to take hold?
It’s a fact that a BICC is often talked about but seldom implemented well. It frequently gets caught up focusing on purely technical issues, whereas its real purpose is to focus on the intelligence executives need to manage and grow the organisation.
One of the first tasks of the BICC is to get an idea of where the organisation is on the BI maturity timeline. 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.
For the organisation to progress you need to know where to aim. BI is a journey, and you have to advance gradually to the point where it is able to deliver rich insights for forward decision making. The BICC is crucial to driving this process. 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, along with a standardised approach to project management. The BICC is also charged with supporting and promoting BI across the company. It plays a role in change management and facilitating communications between the various units in the organisation so that best practices are shared and the creation of new BI silos is forestalled. Unless these fundamental building blocks are in place, the BI initiative is unlikely to succeed.
The BICC coordinates the activities and resources needed to ensure that a fact-based approach to decision making is systematically implemented throughout the organisation. BI programme management includes data integration, governance and stewardship, co-ordination of internal processes, training and development programmes and change management and, ultimately, delivering the information that the business needs for sustained profitability. And, by using BI and analytical software capabilities BI assists the organisation to take strategic forward-looking decisions.
The BICC stakeholders must work as a team to drive the usage of information within the business – to take the company’s data asset and ‘sweat’ it.
Successful enterprises have found that a BICC increases their likelihood of success with BI projects. An integrated approach to technology and processes as well as a supportive organisational culture is essential for a BI initiative to develop to maturity as an enterprise resource that delivers business insights and value.