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How BI development can support quick and nimble businesses

In an excerpt from his book on BI development and delivery, author Greg Steffine explains why it's important to focus BI initiatives on enabling the business to respond quickly and nimbly to situations.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 20, "Be Quick and Nimble," from the book Hyper: Changing the way you think about, plan, and execute business intelligence for real results, real fast! by Greg Steffine. Steffine is a first vice president and senior manager of business intelligence solutions delivery at First Niagara Financial Group.

In the chapter, Steffine explains why BI development efforts should empower quick and nimble decision making in response to market changes. He also offers 10 tips to help organizations get to a point where they can make those quick business decisions. Among the suggestions: incorporate Agile principles into processes; under-promise, over-deliver and over-communicate; and keep data governance in mind during the BI development process.

In business today, it is imperative that organizations find a way to capitalize on opportunities that surface from market disruption. In fact, "a fiercely competitive business environment [has] led 'agility' to trump 'perfectly architected'" when it comes to building a business intelligence capability that effectively supports decision making. And rightfully so. Organizations have to be quick and nimble. They need to be empowered to make smart and timely business decisions based on real-world dynamics.

Copyright info

This excerpt is from the book Hyper: Changing the way you think about, plan, and execute business intelligence for real results, real fast!, by Greg Steffine. Published by Sanderson Press LLC. ISBN 978-0692423080. Copyright 2015.

Follow these tips to ensure that you are operating in a quick and nimble fashion:

Quick and nimble tip No. 1: Embrace Agile principles.

Familiarize yourself with the 12 principles of Agile software and make them a part of the way you work. The principles, led by a priority to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software, reflect many of the same philosophies espoused in Hyper. Always remember that "agility is driven by the need to serve end users. It's about always being relevant and responsive."

Quick and nimble tip No. 2: Build quick-win pilots.

Today, the primary focus of BI is the delivery of self-service interactive dashboards for at-a-glance monitoring, management-by-exception and required analytics. A process I call "fast piloting" -- meaning the creation of representative information dashboards in hours or days, not weeks -- is a great way to:

  1. Visually validate requirements while they're still fresh in the minds of your business stakeholders; and
  2. Deliver real value.

Know that some enterprise BI platforms can turn this process from fast to agonizingly slow, and that will defeat its inherent purpose. Consider the use of advanced data visualization products instead.

Hyper, by Greg Steffine

Quick and nimble tip No. 3: Leverage operational reports for data extraction.

Don't reinvent the wheel. Key operational reports can and often do provide the source content you need to build pilots that deliver real value. So, use them as your extract, transform and load process. Run a report, save the data to a file and read the output into an advanced data visualization tool.

Quick and nimble tip No. 4: Under-promise, over-deliver.

Did you know that many of the unreasonable expectations we find ourselves managing are the direct result of things we say or unintended impressions we leave? That's been my experience. When we overcommit, we set ourselves up for failure. And nothing frustrates business users more than when we tell them one thing but do another. "Under-promise, over-deliver" is a best practice for helping you deliver on target, on budget, on time, every time.

Quick and nimble tip No. 5: Over-communicate.

Nobody likes surprises, so communicate more than necessary more often than necessary. It's a practice that goes a long way to building trust and cooperative partnerships with people. Utilize a project dashboard that quickly and concisely communicates relevant details of interest to stakeholders.

Quick and nimble tip No. 6: Practice "controlled flexibility."

"Controlled flexibility" is an agile principle that allows for last-minute, business-critical changes to requirements that have minimal impact on schedule or cost. BI initiatives aren't well-suited to the traditional design-build-test-deploy cycle of application development -- a process that business users often find too rigid and constrained. Business users like to partner with practitioners who understand that it's "impossible to remember everything," and who are committed to ensuring requirements that were inadvertently missed are included, when reasonable and practical, in the delivered solution.

Quick and nimble tip No. 7: Make lightweight governance an inseparable part of your effort.

Governing data means effectively managing it: maintaining consistency, reducing redundancy and ensuring its quality. But these days, attempting to implement data governance as a standalone initiative is often impractical. So, make it an inseparable part of your BI development effort to gain and maintain traction but keep it lightweight. The best place to start is the business glossary. Use it to engage and align key stakeholders around common data definitions, then expand from there. Just remember that data governance is evolutionary, not revolutionary. When it comes to getting started with data governance, the important thing is to get started.

Quick and nimble tip No. 8: Use lightweight project management.

Implement just the right amount of project management to ensure adequate visibility, transparency and communication. When you start to spend more time worrying about satisfying the Project Management Office than you do your business stakeholders, it's a good sign the project management requirements are too heavy. Use a simple and effective RAID log to capture and communicate Risks, Actions, Issues and key Decisions. It's a great way to keep everyone involved on the same page.

Quick and nimble tip No. 9: Prepare to scale.

While quick wins are primarily meant to satisfy the tactical, short-term needs of decision makers (and do it fast), they aren't throwaway. In fact, they can often provide long-lasting value. Whenever possible and pragmatic, prepare to operationalize and scale your quick win pilots by adhering to relevant design and development standards established by your enterprise architects and systems administrators.

Quick and nimble tip No. 10: Get organized.

Your ability to be quick and nimble is tied to how well organized you are. Make sure you have the right tools at your disposal. Build a library of standard templates, scripts and other artifacts you can reuse from one quick-win effort to another so you don't waste valuable time. You can even create a sandbox to pre-stage data if it helps. Whatever works. The point is: Get organized and stay that way.

Next Steps

Get more insights about BI capabilities from Steffine

Learn how agile BI development helped Western Union

What drives your business decisions?

This was first published in December 2015

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