Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rethinking the role of BI

Increasingly, the companies have questioned the importance of the BI teams in the delivery of value to business and also to be more effective and strategic to organizations. Wayne Eckerson wrote a great post on the role of BI in his blog at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), entitled Evolving Your BI Team from a Data Provider to a Solutions Provider. He commented about a Jill Dyche's presentation at TDWI’s BI Executive Summit, where she explained that BI teams can either serve as "data providers" or "solutions providers." Data providers focus on delivering data in the form of data warehouses, data marts, cubes, and semantic layers that can be used by BI developers in the business units to create reports and analytic applications. Solutions providers, on the other hand, go one step further, by working hand-in-hand with the divisions to develop BI solutions.

Eckerson believes that BI teams must evolve into the role of solutions provider if they want to succeed long term. They must interface directly with the business, serving as a strategic partner that advises the business on how to leverage data and BI capabilities to solve business problems and capitalize on business opportunities.

He wrote that historically, many BI teams become data providers by default because business units already have reporting and analysis capabilities, which they've developed over the years in the absence of corporate support. These business units are loathe to turn over responsibility for BI development to a nascent corporate BI group that doesn't know its business and wants to impose corporate standards for architecture, semantics, and data processing.

However, this separation of powers fails to deliver value, he commented. The business units lose skilled report developers, and they don’t follow systematic procedures for gathering requirements, managing projects, and developing software solutions. They end up deploying multiple tools, embedding logic into reports, and spawning multiple, inconsistent views of information. Most of all, they don’t recognize the data resources available to them, and they lack the knowledge and skills to translate data into robust solutions using new and emerging BI technologies and techniques, such as OLAP cubes, in-memory visualization, agile methods, dashboard, scorecards, and predictive analytics.

A corporate BI team needs to rethink its mission and the way it's organized. It needs to actively engage with the business and take some direct responsibility for delivering business solutions. To provide solutions assistance without adding budget, it will break down intra-organizational walls and cross-train specialists to serve on cross-functional project teams that deliver an entire solution from A to Z. The BI team will become more productive and before long eliminate the project backlog.

He commented about some successful cases where the companies have a high performance BI team. In one of them, for example, the BI is housed in an Information Management (IM) organization that reports to the CIO and is separate from the IT organization. The IM group consists of three subgroups: 1) the Data Management group, a data integration team that handles ETL work and data warehouse administration 2) the Information Delivery group, a BI and Performance Management team which purchases, installs, and manages BI and PM tools, provides training and solutions using reporting, OLAP, and predictive analytics capabilities; and 3) the IM Architecture group, that builds and maintains the IM architecture, which consists of the enterprise data warehouse, data marts, and data governance programs, as well as closed loop processing and the integration of structured and unstructured data.

Eckerson finished the article with the statement: "The message is clear: if you want to deliver value to your organization and assure yourself a long-term, fulfilling career at your company, then don’t be satisfied with being just a data provider. Make sure you evolve into a solutions provider that is viewed as a strategic partner to the business."

I agree with him, the BI team as a data provider can meet organizations, but the role of BI team as solution provider allows a more strategic role for BI and facilitates the delivery of value to business.

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