It is common practice these days for user organizations to bring in outside expertise to assist with the implementation of business intelligence solutions. Although nearly every large IT consulting company offers at least some BI-related services, Ernst & Young (E&Y) has invested heavily in the field over the past few years and believes it has something unique to offer its clients. Given that the company has completed 160 major BI projects over the last few years and worked with 50 top U.S. companies last year alone, I'd guess that more than a few folks agree.

As everybody who reads this magazine knows, BI/DW is out of the early adopter stage and is pretty much mainstream from a technology perspective. Most of the hangups in the BI space today have more to do with making the technology do its thing in the context of the strategic objectives of a business. For example, is the strategic objective to maximize profit or increase market share? Most of what we read about BI is in the context of individual applications (e.g., so-and-so company implemented a CRM or a sales force analysis or a promotion campaign application). Rarely are such applications discussed in a strategic context. E&Y addresses this issue via a patented technology it calls StratMax that provides a methodology and toolset for ensuring this strategic linkage.

E&Y's differentiator is what it likes to call Speed-to-Value. Trans-lated into plain English, it means that it can get you to where you want to be faster than just about any competitor. Its approach is built around integrating one or more BI applications into a strategic framework that takes into account all of an organization's diverse needs and desires. E&Y calls its framework the Knowledge Management Environment and claims that research puts it two to three years ahead of any of its competitors. A key part of this offering is Value ASAP (Accelerated Scoping and Planning).

Value ASAP is a four-to-six week programmed effort designed to lead to a business plan and implementation road map for the set of BI solutions that will be required to address the client's strategic objectives. The idea is to get a consensus on what is needed and to identify a priori what might make the program fail.

A key piece of the program is E&Y's Accelerated Solution Environ-ment. Scheduled about week three of the program, E&Y brings together 40 to 80 client personnel representing every perspective within the client's organization. Over three days, the participants hammer out a common view, establish priorities and build the implementation road map.

E&Y attempts to steer this meeting in a way that creates a sustainable business case. As E&Y puts it, "staying live" is a lot more important than "going live." In other words, a successful BI program should be much more than a short-term solution to an immediate problem. It has to have staying power in order to deliver significant value.

E&Y points out that most companies these days are quite knowledgeable about data warehousing, but that knowledge tends to be concentrated on infrastructure. Thus, E&Y's delivery strategy ­ relatively unique among the large services vendors - is built around teaming with the client as opposed to turnkeying a project. The idea is to let the client take care of the things that are within its core competencies and let E&Y bring to the party its industry expertise, consensus-building methodology and prefab solutions that enable value to be delivered in a hurry while accommodating the client's vision of a sustainable solution.

Currently, E&Y is focusing its BI investments on what it calls e-management decision support. The idea is that clients increasingly want to be able to make decisions in real time (for example, to choose suppliers or shift distribution channels based on a dynamically changing environment). In order to make decisions in Internet time, strategic plans, performance measurement and management reporting must be linked seamlessly ­ a daunting challenge, but one that seems appropriate for the new millennium.

Survey.com's latest forecast shows that the North American BI/DW services market is growing at better than 40 percent annually and will exceed $12 billion by 2003. Should E&Y continue on its present course, it should garner a big piece of that particular pie.

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