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Need for speed in delivering BI capabilities, author says

Organizational alignment and teams of BI evangelists who are hyper-responsive to user needs are key to improving business intelligence processes, according to author and BI manager Greg Steffine.

Greg Steffine is a first vice president and senior manager of business intelligence solutions delivery at First Niagara Financial Group, a bank based in Buffalo, N.Y., that has about 390 branches in New York and three other states in the northeast. Steffine, who works at an office in Pittsburgh, is also the author of Hyper: Changing the way you think about, plan, and execute business intelligence for real results, real fast! The book, published in May, offers advice on managing the business intelligence process and deploying effective BI capabilities that can enable companies to make better business decisions faster. In an email interview with SearchBusinessAnalytics, Steffine discussed issues that can hold back a BI program and highlighted some of the BI management methods he espouses in the book.

To learn more about Hyper, read an excerpt from Chapter 20, "Be Quick and Nimble."

Why do you think so many organizations continue to struggle with BI initiatives?

Greg SteffineGreg Steffine

Greg Steffine: I see four distinct reasons: First, too many organizations get enamored with technology and lose business perspective. It's a pervasive problem. BI has very little to do with technology; and it's interesting that many of the organizations struggling to get the fundamentals of BI right are the very same ones jumping on the big data bandwagon: More data, more technology. Organizations should focus first on maturing basic BI capabilities and squeezing every ounce of value out of the data they already have, then consider moving on to bigger things.

The second reason is that organizations overcomplicate the BI effort. They try to tackle way too much, and, in the process, take way too long to deliver anything of real value. Decision windows around market opportunities open and close pretty fast. It's important for organizations to simplify their approach to BI so they can quickly empower decision makers with the actionable insight they need when they need it.

The third reason is an internal sales and marketing thing: Organizations fail to evangelize. They don't socialize their BI wins, something that's so important to building the kind of excitement, momentum and adoption you need to make business intelligence an integral part of each worker's daily routine.

And, finally, few organizations -- at least, in my experience -- ever manage their BI initiatives to expected business outcomes. That kind of goes back to losing business perspective. BI capabilities have to keep pace with business need.

You discuss the idea of organizational alignment in the book. How important is that to the BI process?

It takes an ordinary person with an extraordinary attitude to make it in BI.
Greg Steffineauthor and BI manager

Steffine: Incorrect perceptions about BI can quickly lead well-intentioned efforts astray, frustrate stakeholders and sap the budget. Not good -- and recovering from that would certainly be a monumental task. Everyone has their own idea of what BI is and how it should work. The idea of organizational alignment is to unify those perspectives and harmonize the thinking of relevant business and IT stakeholders so that everyone is on the same page about what we're doing, why we're doing it, when and how. I say relevant stakeholders because the activity associated with organizational alignment happens with each new BI development cycle, and the stakeholder group is often different. Organizational alignment is never a large, one-and-done enterprise effort.

There's a chapter on selling BI internally, and earlier you mentioned that as something a lot of BI managers don't focus on. Do they really still need to be evangelists for BI capabilities inside organizations?

Steffine: Absolutely. Skeptics and naysayers fill the ranks of most organizations. If they're not stirring discontent behind the scenes, they're making comments like, 'I'll believe it when I see it,' or, 'We've been down this road before.' The thing is, BI initiatives are all about change -- so without some sort of intervention, the culture of most companies will marginalize a BI effort to the point of limited and unacceptable return. Remember the maxim attributed to management consultant Peter Drucker: 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast.' BI is ultimately won or lost in the trenches. That's why the need to internally market and sell it is so important.

Hyper, by Greg Steffine

In the book, you also talk a lot about being quick and nimble and getting quick wins. What do you mean, and why is that imperative?

Steffine: Boris Evelson from Forrester Research writes about it, too, in his foreword: the need for business agility and rapid delivery of actionable insight. It's all a response to competitive pressures and the business climate -- disruption is everywhere. Being quick and nimble is about empowering decision makers with the insight they need at the point of decision -- and to do it before the opportunity slips by. Quick wins are those chances we have to eliminate business pain and help move the needle on performance. They come and go very quickly, so we have to be prepared to respond. If a company with the ability to quickly convert data to information and then to actionable insight enjoys a significant competitive advantage over those that can't, we have to be that company. It's as simple as that.

You called the book Hyper, and you wrap it up by discussing a 'hyper mind-set.' What does that entail, and why did you use that term as the title?

Steffine: The word hyper is meant to convey what I believe is a needed shift in the way organizations think about, plan and execute their BI initiatives. In my experience, BI works best when people are hyper-responsive, processes are hyperagile, and technology is hyperflexible. On the mind-set: It takes an ordinary person with an extraordinary attitude to make it in BI. In the book, I liken him to a sort of business superhero. He's more than the 'purple people' idea, though -- more than a mix of technology red and business blue. Someone with a hyper mind-set is purple, for sure, but with a passion for the possible and an unrelenting will to do transformative work. And failure is never an option. The motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, 'Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.' The hyper mind-set is all about attitude.

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