How to decide whether it is time for BI consolidation

According to experts, it's important for organizations to consider consolidating business intelligence (BI) systems. However, there are many reasons why companies choose not to consolidate. In this chapter from our guide on BI consolidation, hear from expert Rick Sherman about the indicators that you should consider BI consolidation and how to approach consolidation at your organization.

Don't miss the other installments in this BI platform consolidation guide

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BI consolidation proves as much a political as technological process
* How to decide whether it is time for BI consolidation
* Tips for successfully consolidating business intelligence systems
* Implementing your BI consolidation program
* Making the business case for a BI consolidation project

If yours is one of the many companies using multiple business intelligence (BI) tools for reporting and analysis throughout your enterprise, there are several warning indicators signaling that you should consider BI consolidation. The "red flags" include:


  • Businesspeople debating the "correct" numbers coming from different reports during meetings or in email discussions.
  • Businesspeople using spreadsheets to "adjust" the numbers to be "correct" in their own reports.
  • Data shadow systems or spreadmarts
    What is a spreadmart?
    In many organizations, spreadsheets are the most widely used BI tool. Users are often more comfortable formatting and creating reports with spreadsheets, and they prefer them to the BI tool that has become their corporate standard. This phenomenon is referred to as "a spreadmart."
    built to support reporting and analysis for entire business groups.
  • Multiple pockets of IT resources developing, deploying, maintaining, upgrading and growing skills in different BI tools.
  • Debates among the different IT groups as to what data, metrics and algorithms should be used for particular reports that are implemented in multiple BI tools.
  • These are only some of the visible symptoms of deploying and maintaining multiple BI tools. Some of the less visible costs of using multiple BI tools across your enterprise include: budgetary strains; resource constraints; long delays in creating or modifying BI applications; redundant or conflicting efforts; overlapping hardware and infrastructure; the inability to develop deep BI skills; business users spending more of their time gathering data than analyzing information; and having information quality compromised by inconsistent implementation of business metrics, rules and transformations.

    One of the key risks of maintaining multiple BI systems is that inconsistent information can have a potentially negative impact on business judgment; and your company may have a much higher total cost of ownership (TCO) for BI tools than is necessary.

    Identify the scope of the BI consolidation project
    If you are experiencing any of these red flags, then you should conduct a BI (reporting and analytics) survey of your enterprise or a more formal BI assessment. In fact, you should do this even if you do not think you have multiple BI tools. Chances are you do. Often, because BI project have been implemented in a tactical fashion or because applications have bundled BI tools, the use of multiple BI tools is hidden from the enterprise view. You may be surprised at the number of BI tools that are actually being used in the enterprise.

    In order to determine what and where different BI tools reside within your enterprise, start with your corporate IT group. They will have a list, and may actually be the support team, for a block of BI reporting and analysis. It is also likely that they are aware of other BI tools because they were asked at one time or another to provide data or assistance for various departmental BI applications.

    Do not rely solely on the corporate IT group, however, but reach out to the various business organizational groups or business processes to discover what they are using for reporting and analysis. If they are using various applications, determine how businesspeople get their reporting or analysis done. Go beyond traditional BI tools, and figure out where the data shadow systems are, who uses them and what information is processed.

    The best practice is to assess the impact of each BI application. This assessment needs to include: the number of users and their titles; the type of analysis performed; the type of data that's used and how critical it is; and just how long the application has been in use. In addition, you need to determine whether there are any existing overlapping applications.

    Once you have completed an enterprise BI survey, you are in a position to understand the extent, effectiveness, costs and benefits associated with each pocket of BI tool usage. You need to treat the BI applications as an entire BI portfolio to honestly appraise your results from an enterprise perspective.

    Is it worth changing your BI portfolio?
    A preliminary examination of the BI portfolio will help determine what is worthy of consideration and what should be left alone. Most corporations do not have the resources or time to migrate all applications to one standard set of BI tools, so it's worth weeding out those applications that are not significant enough to demand further attention. For example, applications with only a small set of users that do not change much or do not support an "important" business process may be left as legacy applications.

    After the preliminary selection, consider the remaining BI applications part of your enterprise BI portfolio and review them in further detail to determine the transition or migration costs. Calculate the enterprise TCO and migration costs to determine the viability and ROI from a BI consolidation project. Although it's difficult to quantify, it's essential that the cost/benefit impacts of data consistency, business/IT productivity and governmental/industry compliance be a part of these calculations.

    Nothing worth doing is easy
    It would be great to say that BI consolidation can be done quickly and easily and everyone will be happy, but that is not the case. There are ample reasons to embark on a BI consolidation program, but organizations that do so will face cultural and political obstacles. Moving from the "Wild West" of BI tool silos to a rationalized BI portfolio requires compromise and change, but the overall benefits to the enterprise must be the primary business driver.


    About the Author

    Rick Sherman has more than 20 years of business intelligence and data warehousing experience, having worked on dozens of implementations as a director/practice leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers and while managing his own firm. He is the founder of Athena IT Solutions, a Boston-based consulting firm providing DW and BI consulting, training and vendor services. Rick blogs on performance management, DW and BI at The Data Doghouse. You can reach him at rsherman@athena-solutions.com or (617) 835-0546.

    In addition to teaching at industry conferences, Sherman offers on-site DW & BI training, which can be customized and teaches public courses in the Boston area. He also teaches data warehousing at Northeastern University's graduate school of engineering.


    Don't miss the other installments in this BI platform consolidation guide
    * BI consolidation proves as much a political as technological process
    * How to decide whether it is time for BI consolidation
    * Tips for successfully consolidating business intelligence systems
    * Implementing your BI consolidation program
    * Making the business case for a BI consolidation project


This was first published in April 2009

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