Article: Progressing your BI Strategy – Accelerated to Walk
ARTICLE FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY FIRST, SEPTEMBER 2011
By Sajid Patel
In the first article of this three-part series, we jumpstarted the discussion on how to progress your organization’s Business Intelligence (BI) strategy. We talked about the importance of BI as a means of keeping the competitive edge and identifying opportunities. It’s hard to argue the value of information in optimizing business performance across many aspects. Then we established the fundamentals on how to get started with BI through a well-orchestrated “Crawl” stage. In this article, we will talk about how to take your BI strategy further and accelerate to “Walk”.
* “Walk”: Establish the information framework
Evaluating the “crawl” stage, you accomplished a great deal and actually set up a foundation for future success. You learned a lot about your capabilities by taking a good unbiased look at the environment, people, and process. Assessing is an important element in developing an on-the-mark plan for improvement. You partnered with the business groups to understand and prioritize their initiatives based on value. This allowed you to determine the first set of priority targets for your BI strategy. As a result, you successfully isolated a subject area and identified a strong sponsor to help you develop the first iteration of your BI solution. Since you managed scope and effort closely, your first iteration has been a success. The small selected business group that was the recipient of this capability is extremely happy but now wants more data and functionality. Word has spread about that business area’s new found value and there are more and more groups interested in being part of the BI strategy. The good news is you have successfully managed to pique the interest of the business in BI. Your next challenge…managing the demand to accelerate while continuing to establish the foundation.
While the “crawl” stage established the first layer of the foundation through a well-controlled effort, by no means did it cover all of the necessary elements for a successful BI framework. The “walk” stage is about creating a trusted information framework and advancing upon what you already started. Take in more information, start to enforce business rules, focus on quality and put an emphasis on providing more useful “information” to business groups. Furthermore, this stage is about transforming the solution into becoming a more significant element of the broader business landscape. The following outlines some of the key objectives and activities necessary at this stage.
* Build the Information Framework: Add, enhance, fortify
Now that you have a subject area successfully supported, it’s time to enhance that with new subject areas or by extending the existing subject area. This will lead to an actual information framework that business users will deem as the one place to go for information. Adding more content allows you to establish relationships with data that will exist nowhere else but in your data warehouse repository. Those relationships between disparate data will form the basis for turning data into information that uniquely benefits the business.
When you underwent the “Crawl” stage, there was considerable effort in helping the business prioritize their initiatives. Leverage that analysis and determine the next set of content to introduce into your repository. Realize that you will have new voices to be heard as a result of new found success in BI. Since you are still developing the BI foundation, continue to look for a strong sponsor to help provide support during the efforts. When looking for subject areas, try to identify content that integrates in some fashion with your existing content. This will test your framework’s ability to represent relationships between data and systems accurately. Incidentally you will encounter some challenges to be addressed and you should expect that in order to build a reliable framework.
As you identify new content, put a heavy focus on defining clear business rules to introduce the new content. Those business rules will be necessary to transform the data into information that is meaningful, consistent and accurately reflects its representation to the business.
* Advance the reporting framework: Enhanced capability.
Incrementally the reporting capabilities need to continue advancing. When you first established the platform, you may have simply delivered fixed reports based on defined requirements. At this stage, start to introduce new capabilities such as more self-service capabilities. This will achieve several objectives. Foremost it will allow business to be more autonomous and put less dependency on technology teams to have involvement in every aspect of reporting. This will lead to greater integration of information into more business processes and will allow technology teams to scale by reducing the constant need to support regular reporting. Secondly, from a technology perspective, advancing the framework will allow for validation of the technologies and tools chosen for the solution. If there are some gaps, this is the right time to address them. If you have to consider other tools, it’s important to acknowledge that early in the maturity cycle before users become too attached to the existing technology to impact adoption.
Essentially when advancing the reporting platform, consider the power user as your audience. Whereas most users may be happy with static reports, the power user will push the envelope of how information can play a role in key decision making. For example, presenting the information so it supports exception management may fit better with their expectations. Once they identify key areas of concern, the ability to isolate and then drill up, drill down to evaluate root cause will take the solution to the next level of value.
* Emphasize quality and controls: Trusted information.
As more content is brought into the data warehouse environment, implementing the procedures to instill quality in the data and maintain control of the content will become more and more important. With your first subject area, the focus may have been more on just defining the process to bring the information into the environment. During the “walk” stage, you want to establish the “trust” factor in your repository. Ensuring quality in the data is a requirement to achieve that trust. Implement functionality to validate values of fields, domain sets for codes & dimensions, reconciliations of totals & amounts with source systems, etc. Introduce checkpoints along the way to make sure data reconciles as it is transformed and possibly represented. Insist on a formal user acceptance to validate both the content and the end delivery of reporting. Translating business needs into actual requirements is an art form and you should never assume that what you built matches their expectations. Involve business groups throughout the life cycle.
In terms of maintaining control, it’s time to really establish and enforce standards and consistent procedures. Even a simple thing such as naming convention for attributes goes a long way towards developing something that can sustain and grow effectively. Development and environment standards will be necessary to produce consistent quality artifacts. Procedures such as design and code walk-through and a formal approval channel for deliverables will have to be incorporated into the project life-cycle. You may not realize this but all of this standardization and control will lead to well defined metadata that will become more and more important as more content is requested and introduced.
* Establish project controls and clear roles: Effectively managed.
A phenomenon that can happen with BI is the unrelenting demand for more content and functionality. The floodgates will eventually open and the demand will become much harder to manage and deliver. Eventually you will need to be much more formal about how projects are approved and accepted into your BI roadmap. Insist on ensuring that business requirements are well defined for projects. There are too many situations where requirements can become fluid and of course wreak havoc on your plans. Ensure there is a clear process that prioritizes the projects before they are allocated to the technology teams.
Increased business demand will have a direct correlation to the technology team resource demands. In your initial effort, you were able to get by with a single individual that can fill all roles necessary. However, to scale your organization to support the demand, some specialization will become necessary. For example, having individuals that are dedicated to serve as business and data analysts will ensure that there is a strong understanding within your technology teams about the business. Secondly, it allows for the translation of business requirements into the technology to support those needs. Having individual dedicated to design and development will allow standards, consistency and control to be instilled in the delivery side. This type of specialization can hold true for the business teams as well. You may need to have a layer between the true business user and the technology teams that can translate the actual needs of the user community into requirements that can be understood by technology. There are many ways to carve out the allocation of resources across technology and business. The key is to start to think along those lines in anticipation for the demand to come.
Similar to the “crawl” stage, you will encounter some challenges while you accelerate to walk. A couple of the more challenging ones are the following:
# “User Adoption”: As you bring along more groups and types of users into the solution, a successful perception will pose challenges along the way. Be proactive and provide both training and familiarity to the business groups. This will allow them to understand (a) the particular technologies/interfaces and (b) the content in business terms available. This will go a long way to ensure positive perception before user groups are turned loose.
# “Scalability”: More content and a greater number of users will force the technology teams to assess their environment’s ability to scale to meet the increased demand. Lack of scalability and degradation of performance will lead to bad user adoption and reduced demand. Having good technology teams that are proactively managing the technical aspects of the solution will have greater importance.
# “SLA”: As diverse business groups are introduced, their needs for timely content and reporting will put pressure on the solution. Different geographies and different needs will cause the technology teams to manage scheduling and dependencies more effectively, as well as having a solid support structure that can resolve production issues. Furthermore, more environments may be required, ultimately causing more complexity and oversight.
With this article, I hoped to provide you with some considerations for effectively managing the progression of your BI strategy. Your particular organization will have its own twists but fundamentally if you slowly build upon your prior successes, more successes will continue to come your way. For those of you wanting to understand what it means to really advance your BI capabilities, stay tuned for the last article in this series where the focus will be on advancing your BI strategy from “walk” to “run”.
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About the Author
Sajid Patel, Managing Director of Information Management Practice at Emtec
Sajid specializes in data warehouse, data integration and business intelligence architectures. Sajid began his interests in this domain with the introduction of scalable architectures in the early 90’s. Since 1997, Sajid has held leadership positions, either in the capacity of running his own Data Warehouse consulting business to partnering with talented leaders on specialized practices. He currently co-manages the Information Management practice at Emtec and continues to focus on helping customers achieve success with the right solutions in this domain.
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