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Developing World Class Solutions

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

If you provide individuals with the information that they need to manage the areas for which they are responsible, chances are they are going to want more. Whether it is more detailed information, new key performance indicators or additional data that enriches the information that they were examining, the challenge is to have an information solution that can address their requests in a timely manner. Through the use of technology, information solutions can be created to meet those needs. Information solutions that use business intelligence (BI), data warehousing (DW) or business performance management (BPM) technologies enable individuals to access relevant, timely and accurate information for monitoring, analysis, reporting and decision-making purposes. Utilization of these technologies enables business executives to gain greater insight into their operations and provides them the information they need to enact change for the betterment of their organization.

While every BI, DW or BPM initiative is predicated on the belief that these technologies will be beneficial to the organization, some fail to work, fail to meet user expectations or have limited success for a variety of reasons. However, those information solutions that can clearly demonstrate their value are worthy of consideration as world class solutions. Although assessing the value is often time-consuming and an exercise in measuring financial impact, world class solutions demonstrate significant benefits that facilitate the calculation of the total value of ownership (TVO) as well as the return on investment

(ROI). The value that world-class solutions deliver ranges from operational efficiencies that yield cost savings to changes in business activities that produce increased revenue.

Development of world class solutions requires excellent project management, well-documented business requirements and utilization of proven methodologies, approaches and technologies. Essentially, this indicates the use of best practices to ensure that the information solution is designed, developed and deployed with the single goal of meeting or exceeding the expectations of the business users. In order to meet or exceed those expectations and create value, individuals must learn how to use the information solution and understand how it applies to their area of responsibility. By starting with the end goal in mind and working our way back to the requirements and design steps, we can present another perspective of the interdependencies of each step.

Training and Education

Training must be provided so that individuals learn how to use the BI application. While most BI applications have an easy-to-use graphical user interface, teaching users the capabilities of the software as well as the features and functionality introduces them to the information solution. Educating users on the information that is available through the solution and providing them with practical examples and exercises that they can apply to their own information needs helps to foster usage of the application. If individuals understand the capabilities of the information solution, how to use it and the potential rewards that it can provide to them, usage and, correspondingly, value increase.

Development and Deployment

Because business requirements are the principal driver of these technologies, no one is in a better position to determine the acceptance than representatives from the user communities. Before the information solution can be developed, the appropriate technologies must be retained. The selection of the IT development software depends on the design aspects, while the BI and BPM software must be chosen by the individuals representing the user community. Another best practice approach to developing these solutions is the iterative development cycle. This involves individuals from the user community in the review and validation of the information solution. To initiate the iterative development cycle, the design of the information solution must be drafted and validated against user requirements. When deploying the solution, the latency between having access to the BI application and training must be minimal or non-existent. We have found that the longer the latency between training and access, the more the usage of the solution diminishes. If usage diminishes, so does the value of the solution.

Requirements and Design

Before the information solution is designed, the information architecture options must be considered and user requirements must be validated. A few architectural options to consider are the corporate information factory (CIF), dimensional data warehousing and enterprise data management. While there are theoretical principles associated with each information architectural option, practical usage and design considerations will be based upon the user requirements. Requirements must be based upon the information needs of the business users, and there must be recognition that there is a business need which BI, DW or BPM technologies can satisfy. What business problems need to be solved, what data needs to be accessed, how will the information be used, how does it need to be delivered and when does it need to be delivered are just a few of the questions that must be addressed during the requirements gathering phase. These questions serve as a catalyst for greater dialogue and common understanding, which helps to strengthen the working relationships of everyone involved.

From genesis through usage, it is imperative that engaged and representative individuals from the user community partner with IT professionals to validate and ensure that the information solution will satisfy their needs and that they will know how to use it. For individuals specializing in the field of BI and DW, continuous education helps to advance the practice and value of the information solutions while eradicating trial-and-error approaches and limited-value initiatives.

DCI's Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, from September 27th-30th is focused on best practices and the recognition of DM Review's 2004 World Class Solution Award winners. These winners will be announced at the conference, and the 2004 World Class Solution Award finalists are featured on page 31 of this issue.

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