Tips for enabling modern enterprise business intelligence projects

Learn how enterprise BI has changed over the years and why effective BI deployment is an ongoing problem. Get BI strategy tips, and read a sample BI vision statement.

The New Era of Enterprise Business IntelligenceIn this excerpt from The New Era of Enterprise Business Intelligence, readers will learn how enterprise business intelligence has changed over the years, why BI projects are on the radar of almost every CIO and why effective BI deployment is an ongoing problem for many companies. Readers will also get insight on the characteristics of a solid BI strategy and find a sample BI vision statement.


Table of Contents

An introduction to business intelligence and today’s BI tools
Tips for enabling modern enterprise business intelligence projects
Setting the stage for a successful business intelligence program

The Face of Business Intelligence Now

Business Intelligence today is vastly different than in years past in so many ways, as follows:

  • Mergers and acquisitions have dramatically altered the marketplace.
  • Economic influences have driven initiatives such as server consolidations and BI tool consolidations.
  • BI solutions have emerged as integrated platforms, not loose collections of tools.
  • Service providers have offered alternatives (Software as a Service – SaaS) to in-house infrastructure and support.
  • Initiatives such as cloud computing have changed the deployment strategies for many.
  • Appliances have emerged with “black box” BI solutions.
  • Real-time or near real-time BI projects have appeared.
  • Increased emphasis has been placed upon the merger of BI and collaboration.
  • ...and many more.

At the enterprise level, we see a keen interest in providing a corporate infrastructure for BI solutions that is extensible, cost-effective, secure, highly available, and scalable. BI for the Enterprise is all about having vision and goals to attain that vision. Recent surveys have shown BI to be the top priority of most CIOs – CIO surveys for the past four years have placed BI at the top of the list. I suggest that you use our favorite search engine to query CIO surveys rather than have me cite specific ones. With these surveys suffice it to say, there have been many, and the responses have consistently placed BI and analytics at the top of the list (see Figure 1-1).

Why do we find BI to be such a critical initiative after all these years of applying end user-oriented technology to solve business problems? Don’t most enterprises have it under control today? The answer is, no.

BI is on the agendas of the majority of CIOs because they have become extremely aware of its importance in providing a competitive differentiator at all levels of the business. They read about some competitor who is using a BI infrastructure to cut costs, improve customer satisfaction, shorten sales cycles, and more. They may have had some success internally with a new BI project and now want more.

Regardless of the vision held, there is an ongoing dilemma with most BI initiatives – effective deployment. As shown in Figure 1-2, there is a definite “gap” in the intended usage of BI technologies and the actual application of them. The casual users are often locked out of participation due to a number of factors, as follows:

  • The data provided is too difficult to work with.
  • The end user has no time to develop skills other than rudimentary usage.
  • The tool provided is too difficult for the user based upon his level of technology skills.
  • The business problem faced is too complex for the casual user.
  • The software provider has overstated their case for ease of use and deployment.
  • The training is inadequate, and there is no support organization, such as a BI competency center.
  • All of the above.

As shown in Figure 1-2, there is a wide gap between deployment and usage, with a preponderance of BI usage on the IT and power user end of the chart. The desire by most is to drive the bar to the right. For a vendor, this often translates to trying to make their wares easier. For the organization, it most often translates to thinking, “There has to be something out there that our end users can use more effectively.”

Shifts in closing the gap and moving to the right will not occur by maintaining the present course and speed, hoping that momentum will naturally build. Any BI tool has its unique strengths as well as a set of end users who find it to their liking. To assume that others should be able to use a BI tool because a few have taken to it easily is a severe error. “We don’t understand why those other folks in sales aren’t using our new BI gadget! Why, Ray and Frieda worked with it for a week, and look what they can do now!” There is a natural tendency to cover your struggles on the job when you see others having great success with a new gadget. Allowing users to flounder because they don’t quite “get” the tool is inexcusable. I’ll cover this more when we discuss the impact of BI on roles within the enterprise.

The Characteristics of a BI Vision and Strategy

BI visionaries today see an enterprise approach from vastly different perspectives depending upon where they reside in the corporate infrastructure. If you are a part of the IT organization, the emphasis is clearly upon the technology. How does any proposed BI tool comply with our standards? What is its behavior within our infrastructure? Does it use our data sources effectively? How does the vendor support it? The usual IT concerns apply.

From the perspective of end users, the issues are more functionally oriented and business related. They want to know how to use the tool. How easy is it to learn? How do they access their data and how do they perform a specific task? What do they need on their workstation? Can they access their BI “stuff” from their PDA? It’s all about usage and results.

So, now we face a real conundrum with our BI plans. The CIO and other “C Level” individuals have made BI a priority for our enterprise. We already have a smattering of tools, each with their own population of loyal users, as well as processes and possibly applications in place. Do we just make changes in how we operate and support BI within the organization, or do we take a step back and map our vision to a set of clear goals and objectives? Why not start with a clear, concise vision statement? I’m not talking about one where someone has it printed in pretty lettering and hangs it on the walls in corporate meeting rooms (well...maybe I am), but where everyone involved and responsible could articulate it when asked: “What is your strategy – your enterprise vision of BI?”

It may sound a bit trite, but I have seen some very senior people go blank when I ask them this question. It is imperative that a person be able to articulate his BI plan, or we will watch him continue down the same path with little or no hope of change.

A sample vision statement might look something like this:

Our corporate vision for BI is to create and support an infrastructure with secure and authorized access to data held anywhere in the enterprise. Our corporate standard for a BI tool is ________. We staff and measure our BI competency center based upon end-user satisfaction surveys and successful deployments. An important segment of our end-user community requires near real-time data access. Therefore, we have provided such an infrastructure to accommodate them. We currently support ___ users representing ___ % of our user population. Our goal is to increase the usage by ___ % by (date). We weigh the potential costs of increased BI usage against the business value and ROI we receive. Thus, we have a clear view of our success that is measured, accountable, and defensible. 

If your view of BI is the provisioning of a suite of tools and gadgets that are low cost and designed to get the end users out of your hair so you can do the real work, this book is not for you. If, however, your goal is to establish something akin to the vision statement articulated previously, please read on.

Table of Contents

An introduction to business intelligence and today’s BI tools
Tips for enabling modern enterprise business intelligence projects
Setting the stage for a successful business intelligence program

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