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The Business Intelligence director's 2009 letter to Santa

Read business intelligence humor -- a BI director's 2009 wish list letter to Santa. Are any of these items on your wish list?

I've written letters to Santa before requesting gifts that data management and data warehousing managers would appreciate. With the current economic climate, many business intelligence (BI) managers, like the person below, are putting together their wish lists for Santa. How many of these things are on your list?

Dear Santa,

I think you'll agree that I deserve more than coal in my stocking. I've been a good BI director all year (actually for years) by working with business people, my development staff and my peers on our BI projects. Our BI solutions have been successful and provide business value. The business is quite happy and tells me our BI solutions have helped on sales, marketing, logistics and finance in many business initiatives. The projects have been on time and under budget (well, maybe the under-budget part isn't quite true).

But this year, Santa, even though our company continues to grow and prosper, company management is worried about the economy. (I am, too, of course.) They reduced our previously approved IT budget for next year -- it was an increase but now it's going to be the same as 2008. And they are reviewing all previously approved projects -- not to mention that they froze travel and training budgets.

I am a little worried that whenever company management goes on a cost-savings binge, they do so arbitrarily and throw out the baby with the bath water. BI has been used to acquire customers, increase product profitability, streamline logistics costs, enhance productivity in financial processes such as budgeting, and improve overall reporting/analytical capabilities. But it does not seem to matter what we did before -- just how we are going to cut our budget next year.

Could you use your holiday magic to help out with this wish list? All I want for Christmas is:

  • Business groups to commit more time (not capital budget) to our data governance efforts. Increasing business involvement would enhance the value of current BI efforts and probably make it more relevant to many others in the company. It's a pretty cheap way to get more business value, but we need a little "sweat equity" from business people. No tin cup -- just some hands-on involvement.
  • IT management that will accept some new and more cost-effective approaches to BI. IT spent a lot of time in the last recession standardizing on software and hardware. That was in reaction to having eight different products doing the same thing, and it did save money. But now we are "locked in" to a lot of BI, ETL, performance management, database and other products deemed best-in-class. They all work well but are rather pricey. I'd like to be able to explore the use of on-demand or Software as a Service (SaaS), open source business intelligence and products from emerging vendors. These products may offer a more cost-effective, creative approach to meeting business needs. But the IT standards mandate makes it impossible to take advantage of these less expensive products.
  • An adequate training budget to enable my staff to increase their skills, knowledge and, ultimately, productivity. If we are postponing new projects, it would be a great time to increase my staff's skills. The recession won't last forever, and we need to be trained and prepared to tackle critical projects when the money starts flowing again. "Do more with less" is the catchphrase management is using, but we can't do anything unless we've learned how to do it.
  • More disclosure on partnerships and payments between vendors. We often ask systems integrators and consultancies to evaluate or recommend products because of their experience. It would be great if they would provide full disclosure when they stand to benefit monetarily from that recommendation. Stock analysts have to reveal any of their (or their firms' or families') ties to the stocks they recommend, so it is only fair and honest that a consultancy let us know that it has a financial stake in its recommendation.
  • Software pricing that does not inhibit pervasive use throughout our companies. Most software pricing schemes make our CFO cringe and keep our senior VPs from purchasing more software. The reality is that the initial set of business people who use the BI application are likely to see the benefit and pay the higher prices, but as we roll out the BI application, the next group of users are not willing to pay the same high prices. I don't object to software firms making a profit, but most pricing schemes encourage the business to use manually managed Microsoft Excel spreadsheets or cheaper alternatives to true BI. If those vendors really want BI to be pervasive, then offer pricing schemes that encourage it.
  • Help us rationally deal with using many BI tools in our company. Over the years, we have deployed multiple BI tools in silos throughout our company. The initial reaction from IT management is to standardize on one BI tool and then migrate all the business people onto that one tool. First, a one-size-fits-all seems too simplistic. Second, and more important, why would IT promote a program that costs money and resources, does not provide any more business value (same reports but in brand x versus brand y) and diverts business people's attention from increasing revenues or becoming more profitable to trying to figure out what key to press to look at their reports? And the BI standardization program's payback is years from now, not when we need it. Help me get IT management to understand that the payback and value is in data standardization, not BI standardization. The BI tool is not as important as consistent data.
Thanks Santa. You'll find a glass of merlot and some truffles by the fireplace.

About the contributor: Rick Sherman, founder of Athena IT Solutions, shares his business intelligence humor -- and his notable expertise -- on as a contributor and member of the Ask the Expert panel. Rick has more than 20 years of information management and business intelligence experience, having worked on more than 50 implementations as an independent consultant and as a director/practice leader at a Big Five accounting firm.

Read Rick's columns, podcasts and other contributions to

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