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Gartner BI Summit: Effective BI needs performance management metrics

Companies seeking an edge should bolster their BI systems with performance management metrics and tools, Gartner said. But attendees explained why it isn’t a simple process.

LAS VEGAS – Gartner Inc. is holding its annual Business Intelligence Summit here this week. But Gartner analysts spent much of the conference’s first day reiterating a common theme at these events: Just deploying business intelligence (BI) systems and executive dashboards isn’t enough for companies looking to improve their business performance and gain a competitive edge on rivals.

In session after session on Monday, Gartner talked up the need to add performance management metrics and tools, all ideally orchestrated by a business intelligence competency center (BICC) working off a formal corporate BI strategy document. Conventional BI systems often don’t provide the analytics and performance measurement capabilities that business executives need to more effectively manage operations, according to Gartner.

“BI in too many companies is just a case of building a data warehouse and some reports that support performance monitoring,” Gartner analyst Nigel Rayner said. “It’s not adding real value. It’s not actionable information. [Effective performance management] is not just about giving [business users] scorecards and dashboards,” he counseled attendees during one session.

This is not exactly a revelation from the analyst firm. For years at these events, Gartner has been reiterating the idea of integrating BI and performance management. But it’s a goal that seems to continue to elude many of the attendees, for a variety of reasons.

Some BI professionals at the conference said that adopting and acting on the recommendations to create what Gartner describes as an “enterprise metrics framework” won’t be easy for their organizations. And Rayner and other Gartner representatives openly acknowledged that it isn’t a simple process.

“This isn’t something you solve by going to a Gartner conference and suddenly you have a metrics framework,” analyst John Van Decker said in the opening keynote session. “Ideally, all of this can be linked together. But that takes some work.”

For starters, organizations need to create “a performance-driven culture,” Gartner analyst Kurt Schlegel said in a third session. Doing so, he noted, is likely to require the direct involvement of senior corporate executives to identify key performance indicators (KPIs) and business metrics. That will give business unit managers and department heads a vested interest in finding ways to track those metrics, Schlegel said.

He also thinks it’s important to set up a BICC that can take the lead on BI and performance management initiatives – and to include both IT and business representatives in order to instill a team mentality “where everyone wins or loses together.” Even that would be a big change for many organizations: Only a handful of people in Schlegel’s session raised their hands to indicate that they have a team relationship between IT and the business side in place now, let alone an actual BICC.

Nevertheless, Schlegel laid out an aggressive action plan for attendees, saying they should start right away on creating a documented BI strategy for their organizations. Recruiting corporate executives to lead the development of performance management metrics should be done over the next 90 days, he said, and that should be followed within the next year by the establishment of a BICC.

Things won’t happen quite so quickly at CooperVision Inc., a maker of contact lenses in Fairport, N.Y. Varahan Ganesan, CooperVision’s director of applications, said the company is looking at pursuing a metrics-driven corporate performance management (CPM) strategy to expand beyond its current BI reporting capabilities. “There’s a lot of interest at the executive level, that they want to see this,” Ganesan said.

But first, CooperVision needs to make sure its data is more consistent on an enterprise-wide basis, Ganesan noted. To that end, he said, the company is launching a data standardization and master data management (MDM) project that is expected to be finished by the end of this year. Ganesan hopes that a system for tracking KPIs and operational metrics can be in place within 18 to 24 months.

Jabir Patel, associate director of BI at Chicago-based CME Group, said his IT-only team is working to define a formal BI strategy after being asked to do so by the company’s CIO. Patel also hopes to create a BICC with business members in addition to workers from within IT. And he said that CME, which operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and other derivatives marketplaces, is interested in expanding performance management capabilities beyond what is supported by its current BI system.

But, Patel added, “I think everyone realizes it’s not an easy thing to do.” Defining metrics is just one part of the performance management puzzle. The cost of building a CPM system to actually track the metrics is “pretty significant,” he said. “For our organization, we really haven’t come up with the [financial] value it would provide.”

In addition, Patel said, if a BICC does eventually get management buy-in, it would probably be set up as “a loosely defined, dotted-line organization” instead of as a standalone unit.

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