Continue in 2 seconds

BI Business Champions in IT

Published
  • January 18 2006, 12:40pm EST
More in

If you're looking for examples of the next generation of BI leadership, a good place to start is with category leading brand names that can afford the kind of crossover talent that understands data as well as business needs. Our last newsletter profiled Rob Carter, the CIO of FedEx, who described his company's customer-centric approach to data. Another example would be Yahoo's chief data officer Usama Fayyad who also delivered a keynote at our recent BI Forum in Phoenix. While most BI leaders lead off with the scope of their data projects, Fayyad will only reluctantly get around to the 10 terabyte data processing load Yahoo faces on a given day. He'd rather talk about where, how and why Yahoo wins and loses in the business marketplace and work back to data from there.

Talent like Carter and Fayyad (and the resources they can bring to bear) are enviable to companies who continue to grapple with the white space between business and IT. It's plainly evident that BI is meant to actually solve problems for the enterprise, yet the curtain remains partly drawn between business and IT, each with an opinion on what the other really needs.

That is not to say there are not champions on both sides. Many IT leaders want business to take ownership of BI projects; some believe IT should take the initiative in any case. Jon Farrar, VP of predictive modeling at Union Bank of California has done some amateur psychoanalysis of business and IT stereotypes in order to find logical points of interaction. From where Farrar sits, IT should not be afraid to be "the tail that wags the dog," and should develop liaison skills and force interactions. "We have learned to go out and find those types of applications that are going to give us access to the kind of data or the kind of process that we need," Farrar says. From there, he can take viable solutions to the CFO, who takes charge of aggregating data and controlling the central repository that IT draws from. "Where it comes back around full circle is that we are developing solutions with new kinds of tools and you need IT to do the deployment. It's all about the common ground."

To do less minimizes the value of IT and even exposes it to outsourcing. But most IT organizations still have a narrow focus, and may be directed to do no more. "The mission of most IT guys is to make sure nothing falls down," says Jane Conway, Senior VP of Product and Technology Solutions at State Street Bank. "They are utility supporters who think in terms of multiple backups and stability, which can be the opposite of flexibility." Conway feels most businesses are just getting around to a centralized group that's mandated by the CFO or president, whose mission it is to provide information services. "When they direct IT, that will shift the world inside of financial services."

There are already centralized models for BI, integration (see the April issue of BI Review), and business process, though few companies can afford all these initiatives at once. Ted Friedman, an analyst with Gartner Inc., talks about the business intelligence competency center, a shared, centralized team that is made up of both business and IT resources. "Another model is data stewardship where business people have responsibility and accountability for quality of data and use that as a way to bring BI out of the IT domain into business," says Friedman. More often, IT acts as a gatekeeper, managing any number of fragmented cubes and marts. "That's probably not the best thing because it perpetuates and proliferates all this fragmentation."

Conway says some leadership clout is needed in any model. "Big companies have the best engineers but you need guys like [Yahoo's] Usama Fayyad who lead people across the bridge." Fayyad's own model is to create a "human interface" among teams of engineers and business analysts who answer up to business units and executive management who own the initiative. "If you are left in a world where this either belongs to IT or business, I see it succeed typically when it belongs to the business world." He also prescribes restraint in infrastructure spending in favor of smaller data-driven applications that will form the seeds of the proper data warehouse down the road. "Start with two or three important problems where the data can see action and move backwards. It's not the grand vision people talk about, but I don't know of another realistic way to deliver results quick enough before the business changes and the people retire or go to other jobs." For Yahoo at least, that formula appears to be working very well.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access