Monday, June 21, 2010

Business Intelligence and Performance Management for the 21st Century

Ventana Research is a benchmark research and business technology advisory firm. They usually publish good studies, researchs and white papers. They also have a good blog, where they publish posts on the business, IT, technology and industry issues. Recently, Intelligent Enterprise published a great article about a new study by Ventana Research, entitled Business Intelligence and Performance Management for the 21st Century. According the article, Ventana Research undertook this benchmark research to assess the current state of maturity, trends and best practices. The goal was to determine how organizations approach BI and performance management and prioritize their key components, and to identify what elements they desire in a comprehensive approach.

The research found strong interest in and growing demand for BI and performance management. However, the research paints a picture of a market in an early stage of development. It shows that most organizations face considerable obstacles. According the study, they have only basic BI capabilities such as querying sources for specific data (74%), generating reports from data (74%) and accessing data from a spreadsheet for further analysis (70%). These and other findings lead Ventana to conclude that in general, organizations are still maturing in their use of BI and performance management. Organizations’ most important goals in deploying BI tools are to provide access to data through a variety of tools (cited by 57% of participants), to make it possible to apply analytics to the data easily (61%), and to communicate and collaborate on the analytics (55%).

Based on the research, Ventana listed 10 recommendations on how to proceed. Below is a summary of Ventana's recommedation:

1. Assess your organization’s maturity in BI and performance management. Applying the Ventana Research Maturity Index methodology, Ventana found that only 15 percent of organizations reach the "Innovative" level in all four functional categories of maturity (People, Process, Information and Technology). Ventana's analysis also reveals that maturity across these categories is uneven. From a technology perspective, organizations still use spreadsheets and e-mail too often to perform BI tasks. Examine your own capabilities in each of the four maturity categories and research how organizations that rank higher are able to do so.

2. Consider the effectiveness of your current tools and applications. Ventana found that most organizations have at least some doubts about the technology they currently use for BI and performance management. Only 12 percent of participants said they are completely confident in their BI technology, and only 9 percent made that assertion for the technology they use to manage performance. Explore users’ feelings about the tools they use and identify to tools that should be replaced.

3. Reduce the number of BI tools and the use of spreadsheets. BI systems have been around for years now, yet all but 10 percent of participants said they have at least some degree of difficulty standardizing BI into a consistent and reliable technology. Spreadsheets are an impediment to collaborative processes in enterprises. They are prone to errors and conflicts in data between files that are thought to be the same. Ventana advises taking steps to reduce the number of BI tools in use and standardize them. This research reinforces the many past findings that spreadsheets should not be used for this or any collaborative, enterprise purpose.

4. Compare the BI capabilities you have with those you want. The research shows that most participating organizations have deployed or are deploying basic BI capabilities such as querying sources for specific data (74%), generating reports from data (74%) or accessing data from a spreadsheet for further analysis (70%). However, notably fewer have more advanced capabilities. For example, only 30% can apply analytics to data effectively, 24% can collaborate on data and metrics, and 22% can conduct what-if analysis for planning and forecasting. Decide what BI capabilities you want and examine products that can supply them.

5. Determine whether products currently in use can handle performance management well. Participants in our research said their most important goals in managing performance are to align actions and decisions to goals and strategy (cited by 77%) and to be able to plan effectively for improvement (75%). Business intelligence can be a key tool for helping organizations understand, align and optimize their performance; however, participants expressed mixed feelings about how well their BI tools help them in these efforts. In several aspects of understanding performance, fewer than 10% said their current products are superior, and the largest percentages called them only adequate or worse. In aspects of aligning performance, products fared worse: Again fewer than 10% rated their products superior in any category, and inadequacy outpolled basic adequacy. For optimizing performance, responses followed the same pattern, with no aspect exceeding 10% in superior rating. These findings suggest that you should take a hard look at the adequacy of the tools and systems you use to manage performance; determine whether other tools would enable more cost-effective performance management.

6. Identify the types of data you need to access and analyze. A majority of participants (57%) said that an important goal in providing BI tools is to provide access to data through a variety of methods. Asked to identify the types of data they consider most critical to access, 71 percent of participants cited not a type but a source: databases residing in data warehouses or operational data stores. The next two most-often-cited data types involve business activities important to a range of job functions: finance data (67%) and customer data (61%). More than half of participants said they need to access spreadsheets (55%) or transactional data (54%) from enterprise systems such as customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) or online transaction processing (OLTP). Indicating the increasing diversity of data types, one-third (34%) said they need to access unstructured content such as text, images, voice or Web data. To put BI and performance management to the best use, Ventana advises identifying the types and sources of data your company or unit needs to access most often and then evaluating tools that can help you do so easily.

7. Consider adopting or expanding metrics for performance management. The ability to measure and track performance is an integral component of performance management. Currently 41% of participating organizations evaluate performance data and 29% are assessing metrics or measures to do so; more than one-third of executives (37%) measure performance. Find which processes and employees in your organization might perform better if metrics were available for evaluating their performance, then deploy systems that can monitor those metrics.

8. Address organizational barriers to improving BI and performance management. While research participants clearly recognize the worth of improvement, they also acknowledge a number of barriers to implementing projects to do that, mostly involving money or institutional support. The barrier cited most often is lack of resources (60%), followed by lack of a budget (43%). The top two people issues are lack of awareness (cited by 36%) and lack of executive support (26%). Determine what barriers exist in your own organization and discuss how to overcome them.

9. Look into alternative means of software deployment. Asked how they deploy this software, half (53%) of participants said they currently install and manage it on their own premises in the established manner; however, that percentage drops dramatically regarding plans for deployment in the next 12months (13%) or 12 to 24 months (11%). Nearly as many said that in the next 12 to 24 months they will choose hosted software managed off-site (13% and 9%, respectively) or renting software as a service (SaaS) on demand (12% and 10%). These options can help address organizational barriers such as lack of resources to provide BI and performance management.

10. Examine software that can be deployed across roles in the enterprise. The research found that two-thirds (66%) of organizations are planning to evaluate new technologies for BI and performance management. In terms of roles, managers (72%) were most assertive about planning to consider new products. Consider the breadth of implementation you require from software to support BI and performance management and make that a criterion when evaluating products and vendors. Challenge vendors to demonstrate the appropriateness and usability of the products they’re offering, and ask to speak with customers in situations similar to yours.

You can download the complete executive summary version of the Ventana Research report (registration required).

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