Your organization has a unique set of operating characteristics that define its information management culture. These characteristics can influence the organization's ability to manage and communicate information across and external to the organization.

As your business grows or new circumstances arise, you will require new capabilities to manage information in a manner that supports growth without sacrificing the enterprise's culture or creativity.

Traditionally, when evaluating the status and direction of business intelligence programs within an organization, industry experts recommend a maturity assessment. The term "maturity" in this context is a measure of the organization's actual development against an assumed norm for similar organizations.

Your organization may have undergone an assessment and asked the same questions we've asked: Why maturity? What about organizational culture?

Maturity does not necessarily reflect capability. Maturity analysis suggests that the enterprise should be more mature than it is, or that it is not as mature as another organization. It brings to mind being picked last for a schoolyard basketball game. You may be the smallest kid on the playground, but maybe you bring a unique perspective to the team's needs. You may offer skill instead of height, speed instead of reach.

We should concentrate on capability instead of maturity. BI maturity may be of some interest to the organization, but it's only a first glance from a myopic perspective that ignores your unique culture, history, drivers, capabilities and focus.

Managed BI Growth

BI capability at any stage is significant to operational, tactical or strategic perspective. For example, an organization setting a goal to produce a product for a single vendor may view BI operationally and ask, "What is the most cost-effective way to manage our people and process to produce a product for our customer?" This goal may be in accordance with the organization's intelligence capability for operational reporting to control production and may meet today's needs.

But what about tomorrow's needs? If the same organization expands to multiple lines of business and multiple customers, its supply chain management, sales, CRM, marketing, external partners, human resources and finance all become more complex and intelligence becomes crucial to sustainability. The business need for timely, accurate and trustworthy information escalates the need for both efficient and effective access to information. But what specific capabilities must increase? How do we define a path that increases the BI capabilities of the organization?

A new approach to capability alignment should be based on a predictable set of attributes described as the BI capability, scope of delivery and the focus needed to operate effectively and efficiently at any stage of your organizational lifecycle or culture.

Evaluating BI Capacity

Whether identifying and building capability, optimizing the architecture or controlling the flow of information, focus areas define organizational BI needs: 1) to identify information; 2) to optimize the information infrastructure in a way that enables stakeholders to make better decisions; and 3) to control the flow of information within and external to the organization.

For each focus area, there are two levels of capability to be evaluated. They reflect the organization's needs within each focus area and can be thought of as stepping stones to additional capability and growth. Best practices exist for each increase in capability relative to the business, technology and information architectures necessary to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your organization's BI implementation.

1. Identify:

  • Conceive - identify data needs to perform business-sustaining processes.
  • Compose - generate operational and managerial reporting capability.

2. Optimize:

  • Measure - create standard measures and tracking history to perform trend analysis for lines of business.
  • Manage - development of metrics and measures across the enterprise to manage multiple lines of business.

3. Control:

  • Govern - a continued framework for data governance to enable stewardship and improve corporate data confidence across the enterprise.
  • Protect - manage and protect information delivered internally or externally to the enterprise.

Scope of Delivery

The importance of getting information to the people that need it, when they need it, can't be overstressed. To efficiently make decisions and communicate effectively we need access to information. Organizations might spend vast amounts of resources to create information without regard for availability and delivery, resulting in uncertainty and reduced effectiveness. Defining the audience, the manner for delivery and the method of access across an organization enables information to be useful and BI to be effective.

See Figure 1

Information Delivery Capability Curve

The figure above represents the relationship between BI capability and scope of delivery that is needed for an organization's BI program. It shows the level of BI on a predictable curve for an organization as scope of delivery and capabilities increase. The curve represents the growth in availability (scope of delivery) across and external to a typical organization. As intelligence needs increase across a greater audience, it is essential that the BI capability rises to meet the requirements of that audience.

Levels of BI

We can define the levels of BI as stepping stones, each providing additional capability to meet audience needs defined by the scope of delivery.

Operational Reporting

The most basic requirement of BI is for accurate and timely data available from an operational perspective. "How many products did we sell?" or "What is our inventory?" are examples. In most circumstances, individual or project-based need represents the initial conception of BI within an organization - basic operational-centric intelligence. This by no means limits an organization's advance in capability. It simply suggests the scope of delivery for the stakeholders of information at that time. Often there is a level of efficiency that outweighs effectiveness at this level. Individual "siloed" systems are sometimes managed with little or no common infrastructure. This places a constraint on effectiveness because the common enterprise architecture for delivery, master data and data governance often does not exist at this stage.

Tactical Reporting

Tactical reporting often represents the transition between operational and managerial-centric reporting. It provides the initial common architecture between intelligence systems to produce reporting that is created with a common look and feel within a common reporting tool. The information may still come from siloed systems, and there may be very limited self-service capability. Typically, only structured reports are available and are developed with the help of IT at this stage. However, there is the opportunity to provide operational information to decision-makers to permit them to make better tactical/managerial decisions on a limited basis.

Strategic Reporting (History and Trending)

Strategic reporting requires the ability to capture and manage historic data to enable trending analysis - in other words, to measure the past in support of making future predictions. In strategic reporting, a well-defined delivery capability for managers provides consistency and quality based on a common architecture and data structures across a line of business. These structures are enhanced by a common set of business rules and metadata that interact with the data to provide high quality information to managers. At this stage, there is a common platform for information delivery across lines of business but not necessarily across the enterprise. This often contributes to multiple information platforms acting in conflict with one another, yielding inconsistent results across the enterprise.

Performance and Improvement

Performance and improvement reflect the ability of an enterprise centric delivery organization to create and manage goals. The information is critical to measure and improve performance within integrated business processes. It is typically structured as an enterprise data warehouse with common reference data and initial data governance components across an organization. At this stage a well-defined enterprise solution is used to effectively implement master data and centralized delivery across the organization.

Highly Available and Highly Trusted

This stage represents the most efficient and effective use of BI across the enterprise. It is defined by an established data governance and stewardship program that enables operational managers, business stakeholders and IT staff to work together to ensure the accuracy, timeliness and availability of critical information across the organization. Highly available and highly trusted BI can serve the dual purpose of both enterprise-centric and customer-centric delivery.

Highly Focused

Delivery and access of BI information external to the enterprise is the most challenging of delivery options, requiring organizations to control and protect information while still providing access to information. External suppliers, customers, government agencies and the public may all have access to certain elements within your enterprise. A high level of governance is required to provide the appropriate access while protecting information from prying eyes, not just security, but active information protection. This requires diligence, as increasing effectiveness may outpace standards for keeping the information secure.

Highly Administered

Highly administered information tends to focus more within the enterprise than externally. Self-service is limited and information is highly protected. Examples may be military or health service organizations whose data is confidential or classified. For these reasons, access to BI information is highly secure, and access to it is rigorously protected and audited.

Steps to Success

Use a method for assessing and planning for a well-balanced BI program that focuses on your organization's distinctive culture. From dynamic to disciplined, consider the unique circumstances of the organization lifecycle, delivery and ability of BI from a capability perspective rather than a maturity perspective. The balance of both efficiency and effectiveness enables a well-rounded intelligence program in any organization.

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