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Business Intelligence – Five Factors For Success

Business Intelligence - You know you need it but how do you get started?

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

Whenever a complex undertaking is begun, whether it is building a skyscraper, an airplane, or a new set of applications to support new business initiatives, the first step must be to create the high-level plan or architecture of what the ultimate product or environment will be. This architecture acts as a road map or diagram guiding the developer in terms of how all the parts and components interact and cooperate together.

Our high-level roadmap for supporting business functions is the Corporate Information Factory (CIF) shown below.  The CIF is a logical or conceptual architecture whose purpose is to deliver Business Intelligence capabilities driven by data provided from Business Operations.

The left side of the CIF consists of all the operational systems (web servers, operational, reporting systems, and even external data) that are the sources of data for the rest of the architecture. These are the core systems that run the day-to-day business operations and are accessed through application program interfaces (APIs).

The ability or inability to capture the appropriate data in operational systems sets the stage for the value of the CIF itself.  The success or failure of this architecture depends heavily on these operational systems to supply the richness in data needed to understand the business. They also provide the analytical basis to enable us to judge the health of the business.

Business Intelligence (BI) consists of the ability to analyze data and information for strategic and tactical decision-making and represents the rest of the CIF architecture. BI has enjoyed a significant amount of attention in recent years because it is here that companies garner their business acumen regarding their customers, products, campaigns, employees, etc. This is the essence of the truly Intelligent Business. There have been many articles about these components written by myself, Bill Inmon, Lisa Loftis, Jonathan Geiger, and others over the years – many found within the B-EYE-Network’s website itself – that describe each of these components, so I will not discuss them in detail here.

The point of this article is to emphasize that getting started in creating this environment is not as difficult as you might think. However, there are a few things to consider before embarking on this task. Here are my top five success factors that are critically important to any business wishing to develop a CIF-based BI environment.

  • A dependable architecture – We have found over the years that the Corporate Information Factory (an architectural roadmap) is a sound and proven starting point. It is easily created in an iterative fashion (one small section or part at a time), that gives you great flexibility in terms of handling the ever-changing enterprise, and it is sustainable for the long run. You should use the conceptual CIF shown above as your starting point, customize it for your particular environment, and then develop the physical instantiation based on it.
  • Strong partnership between the business community and IT – For you to be successful, the business must have a compelling and solvable problem. Often the business community does not understand its own needs and therefore cannot define them clearly to the technical implementers. To simply state that the business wants a BI application is not enough. Therefore, the business must sponsor and commit resources to defining and implementing a solution.  Business sponsors must contribute their needs and domain knowledge, not stand back and trust IT to define the solution. It is important that the business understand what it takes to make strategic decisions, when and where these systems will be used, how they will interface with the business processes using them, etc. The business community must work hand-in-hand with the IT personnel to ensure that the requirements are understood and time frames are reasonable. On the other hand, IT personnel must welcome the business community’s input, listen carefully and understand the new business model. The business must take ownership of the solution and sponsor ongoing activities, such as, process changes, stewardship, data quality, and user training. Ultimately, the business must recognize that these systems are the results of their input and cooperation. The business should take on the job of ensuring that all users of the systems are well versed in the processes and usages of these components. Finally, without doubt, problems will pop up with existing business processes and systems that impact data quality. The business must step up to this and be willing to fix critical data problems at their sources. This may mean changing an incentive program, retraining personnel on the new processes, analyzing the sources of problems and even changing the workflow.
  • A different kind of methodology – The creation of the CIF requires a different methodology from the traditional software development life cycle. It requires a prototyping or rapid development in which the requirements may not be completely hammered out at the beginning of the project. Therefore, the business and IT sponsors must buy into this spiral methodology and not insist on a one-release project.  Both are prepared to get benefits one iteration at a time. It may also mean that a Program Management Office may be needed to prioritize and control the various projects undertaken.
  • Well-defined business problems – It is never easy for participants to come up with a proper scope for any of the CIF projects. It is a balancing act to deliver substantial benefits in a reasonable amount of time. I suggest that each project develop a formal scope document identifying the business problem to be solved, the systems involved (and those not involved!), people involved, timeframe for delivery, major deliverables, assumptions made, and the risks and contingencies specified. The scope document is a living and breathing document. As perturbations occur, the scope document should be reissued and re-approved.
  • A willingness to accept change – You are embarking on a very new way of doing business. It is difficult sometimes for people to understand and accept these new processes. How people relate to the enterprise and these new systems is changing. Maturity of the enterprise will place more demands on highly-skilled team members. Maturity of the global network increases the ability to distribute the work force. An increasing number of companies in the value chain changes the emphasis from employee to team member.  What you find is that knowledge work becomes distributed from the “job of the few” to the “task of the many”. This means that the move to a BI environment requires that IT and the business community work closely together, forming a new breed of cross-disciplined professionals who understand both technology and the business.

The Corporate Information Factory is an ideal architecture for a sustainable and maintainable environment for business intelligence, but, you must pay attention to a number of other critical success factors when getting started and developing this environment. The list here contains those I have found to have a significant impact for creating a successful BI environment.

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