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Setting the Stage for BI Success

No successful BI endeavor occurs within the full synergistic cooperation of IT and the business users. This is particularly true at the enterprise level, although you will find occasional pockets of success where the end users prevailed despite their poor relationship with IT. You need to keep in mind that everyone involved should be acknowledged as having taken part in a challenging journey that has reaped significant rewards and is far from over.

I reference the enterprise throughout this book. The enterprise encompasses all facets, all functional areas, and all business processes that interact to drive the entire organization. I mean that an enterprise cannot provide an effective infrastructure for BI by allowing multiple tools to be disseminated throughout the organization. I mean that an enterprise cannot have BI success without a plan and a proper support organization in place. I do not mean that you need to drop all BI tools except for one thought that would make life far easier. I do mean that it is not wise to maintain 5 tools that perform query and reporting just because they have all been adopted over time. It is an organizational nightmare to continue to maintain a poorly planned BI infrastructure that is not cohesive and clearly understood by all throughout the enterprise.

Within the IT Organization

IT must be equipped to handle BI from an infrastructure perspective as well as a business standpoint. The primary factor driving most IT decisions today is cost. Perceived platform costs (for example, a distributed environment versus a mainframe) often drive a BI decision without any thought being given to the incremental work and loss of productivity associated with data capture, replication, increased server growth, staff to support a large distributed environment, lag time in replicated data, and more. Looking at BI through cost-covered glasses will often result in a disconnection within the organization.

Such a disconnection is usually due to the lack of emphasis upon aligning the BI infrastructure with clearly understood business goals. One CIO told me: "All anyone seems to pay attention to is my overall cost; they don't understand the value my organization brings to the business." Was this the CIO's fault, or was the organization myopic in their view of IT? I don't know, but I suspect it may be a little bit of both.

Here is an example of aligning BI efforts in IT with key business areas. There is the emerging trend of operational intelligence where there is an increased emphasis on near real-time BI to provide a better experience for customers. Customer service reps are being equipped with up-to-date information about a customer's buying records so they can have a closer, more personal conversation with the prospect.

In order to deliver operational intelligence solutions, IT often has to make significant changes in their infrastructure. For an enterprise whose directions in data warehousing and BI have been to offload data from a mainframe, reversing course to take advantage of the information without offloading is not a trivial pursuit. If such realignment is required, then the effort and additional cost for IT must be understood and approved. IT must be made to understand the significance of such a change, and the end users need to support this fully.

In an operational intelligence scenario, it is imperative to place the BI functionality as close to the data as possible at point of capture. These applications traditionally utilize more highly detailed data than what may be fed to a data warehouse. In many scenarios, an operational data store (ODS) is provided as an intermediary source for capturing the data in a real-time mode and then being a source to an operational scenario as well as trickle-feeding a data warehouse. I will cover this more in-depth in Chapter 4, "The Scope of BI Solutions Today and How They May Relate to You," when we discuss the scope of BI solutions today.

If we map the business requirement (an operational scenario) to the current infrastructure, and we have a clear understanding of the business value and ROI associated with it, the challenge now facing IT is to construct the most effective delivery system for the end users, where business value is the primary driver and cost is second.

Within the End User Community

The first and foremost issue end users have to grapple with is being able to articulate their requirements and associated business value to complete the IT mission in crafting an enterprise BI framework. "We just need to get to the data and get some reports out and maybe create a few dashboards for our management team." There is nothing in that statement that suggests one iota of business value, yet it is often the best that many end users can articulate.

If you are an end user, spend some time assessing how much time and effort you are willing to invest in any BI project; make sure you have the time. Once you have a clear evaluation and realistic view, it is time to spend some quality time with your IT folks to understand the data they will provide and how you will access it. It will be critically important to map your analysis requirements to the proposed data structure. Later, I will discuss BI efforts based upon roles and skills within the organization.

Figure 1-3 shows a theoretical graph of BI skills in contrast to the complexity of the business problem and analysis required. This is not an uncommon mismatch seen in many organizations. When we look at the right-hand side of the chart, we see a horrendous mismatch between the user skills and the problem at hand. If we have a realistic view of our own situation, we may evolve a better approach to our proposed BI infrastructure. In particular, we may drastically alter our data structure we provide.

Figure 1-3

Figure 1-3 Skills versus complexity of the business problem

You will not make up for the skills gap in such situations by acquiring a tool that is considerably easier to use than what you have in-house (unless you are writing in the assembler language or Sanskrit). Such a tool does not exist. At this point, it is more important to have a proper business case handy for the potential ROI for the required BI process and to make sure it is understood and agreed upon. If the return is high enough, additional resources are easily justified.

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