Let's talk about a few clear steps any business can take when setting up a BI center of excellence in order to position the group for success.

As the saying goes, "Well begun is half done." First, define a clear charter and ensure that distinct roles and responsibilities are delineated at startup. (See the November 2008 column "Getting Data in, Getting Information Out" for more on roles and responsiblities.) There are many options for constructing the COE and for determining who within the organization actually builds BI applications. Some very effective COE organizations simply set and document best practices and provide guidance to distributed application teams across the organization. Others provide guidance but are also responsible for ensuring that distributed application teams comply with documented policies and conduct project reviews and spot audits to ensure compliance is actually met. In a third variation, the COE documents best practices, owns some of the development work and provides services to business units that wish to hire them to do the work on data subjects outside of their direct ownership. Last, the COE provides all BI development work across the organization. Each construct is valid and can result in an effective COE. But given these variations, it is imperative that a clear charter and mission for the group are established. The charter should explicitly describe what the COE will and will not do. If COE services are not mandated, terms and conditions for acquiring these services should also be spelled out, including charge-back terms and allocated overhead costs.

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