During the past several decades, software development has gone from in-house development at the departmental level on a relatively small scale to vendor-packaged large-scale systems at the enterprise level. Similar to software development and with many BI vendor acquisitions, BI has also shifted from independent report and dashboard development to packaged enterprise DW/BI programs. The divergence between the two is that business needs to play a relatively more important role in BI, and they need to do more than just provide business requirements. The partnership between business and IT lays out a necessary foundation for the program to be successful, and the full support from the executives ensures the organizational goals play a higher priority than the departmental objectives.


Forming the partnership between business and IT requires a lot of education of the business community. The business community uses software systems every day for their job – enter an order, check the claims, enter the customer information into the system, etc. They also work with reports every day – perform the balance checking, check the sales performance and look at the financial numbers for quarterly filing. They rely on the system to reflect the correct data and also expect the report to be accurate. But they don’t usually get the chance to learn how these systems are built or the reports are developed and such understanding is critical to the formulation of the business/IT partnership. By understanding, they will know better what information IT is looking for from them, and they will better appreciate the important role that subject matter experts play and make SMEs available.


Just like anything else, providing education to the business community requires a well-planned strategy, and different educational methods need to be employed for different audiences at different phases of the project.


Preinitiative Education


Obtaining Executive Sponsorship


Executive sponsorship is a must-have for the success of the DW/BI program. Executives usually have a vague vision about what an enterprise DW/BI program is and what it can do for the company and for their departments. Often, the executives believe that such an enterprise initiative will distract their department’s focus from their a departmental goal and lower the team’s efficiency. This belief may not be completely wrong from departmental perspective, but it is obviously in contradiction with the organizational goal to a certain degree.


In this phase of getting sponsorship from executives, there are two objectives. One is to empower the executives with knowledge and endow them with a clear picture of what benefits such a program will bring to the organization. The other more important objective is to change the idea that more cooperation between departments will depreciate the department momentum toward departmental goals. Although it might be that increasing interaction between departments will give away some controls, the enterprise DW/BI program will help executives to reach their departmental goals in other ways - for example, cross-selling opportunities and better product strategy.


It is a crucial first step to build a collaborative business/IT partnership for DW/BI program. If partnership between executives on this enterprise initiative is lacking, then the CEO has to take the sponsorship role and spearhead cultural change across the entire organization. Only a top-down approach with the necessary and firm executive support will start a good foundation for the business/IT partnership on this program.


Promoting the Idea of an Ongoing Journey


Enterprise DW/BI program is not a one time deal. It’s not simply another system to be built or another project to be implemented. For the past several decades, numerous applications, databases and reports have been either developed or purchased across the whole organization, and now it is time to look at the most important asset of the company – the data, which is scattered and siloed across the organization. When DW/BI shows up on the project list, people always look at the rollout date. This approach is detrimental to the management of expectation and development of patience across the company on this program.


Preinitiative communication and education can be very helpful in managing user expectations and cultivating patience from top executives to analysts. This program will gradually break siloed information, promoting the achievement of organizational goals, but it has to be achieved in phases, and it is an ongoing improvement process. During this process, active business involvement, buy-in and support are the necessary components for it to be successful.


In this phase of education, the idea of DW/BI being an ongoing journey instead of a one-time deal needs to be advocated and promoted across the organization. Sponsorship from top executives and participation from business managers are the key to set the tone and get the entire company ready for the change.


In-Process Communication


Within the progress of the project, the communication between IT and business should become more frequent and be scheduled on a regular basis. IT needs to work together with business to define the requirements and also keep the business updated on project the progress, while business must provide the expertise of a group of business participants to assist IT in the success of the project.


SMEs provides business expertise on the data definitions, key performance indicator calculations and how the DW/BI applications will be used. End users will use the system every day, so their voices need to be heard in regards to what they would like to have in the system. If the DW/BI applications are replacing of existing applications, the current features of the legacy systems and the wish list from the end users will be very useful for the development of the new system. Business managers also need to be informed of the project status so that they can have a good picture of how much time will be required from their resources. In general, the DW/BI project team needs to regularly work with all of the business involved, making sure the project is on the right track and fits the business model. The only area that shouldn’t involve business users too much is the DW/BI architecture.


Business users will actually be very pleased when they are not only updated with the status of the project but can also be involved in the process to some degree. Communication is also to the benefit of IT because their work can be more understood and appreciated by the final users of the products. As such, a constant communication creates a win-win situation for both IT and business and is a guiding light through this ongoing process.


On-Going Training Program


Training and education is required to increase awareness and recognition of the importance of BI to the growth of the entire organization. Educating at the different levels of the organizational hierarchy expands personnel’s knowledge of this unique area, enabling the standardization of the performance management across the whole organization. The training will provide the user community with an opportunity to clarify what BI is, what short-term and long-term benefits BI can bring to the enterprise, and some changes that are required associated with the rollout of BI. With an ongoing organized BI training program, the partnership between business and IT on DW/BI initiatives will be a long-term relationship instead of a one-project collaboration.


Five Suggestions for Forming a Solid Partnership with Business


1. Set up a functioning prototype for executive sponsorship. A working system with reports, dashboards and KPIs always works better than words when it comes to obtaining executive sponsorship. The prototype should be armed with real data and needs to be built in a relatively short period of time - two to three months. Demonstrating the prototype to the executive committee is like putting up a sales presentation, so the prototype needs to run with good speed and the right information. A well-functioning prototype is the first step for the executives to see the benefits it will provide to the company and helps executives to make decisions on this program.

2. Lay out the strategy and roadmap. Forming a solid partnership with the business requires providing a clearly defined strategy and delivery roadmap to the business so that every participant is aware of where we are going and milestone deliverables along the way. The strategy and roadmap are important for the project team to get support and buy-in from the business area, and they also provide a guideline for IT to update business with any progress of the project.


3. Set up a data governance council. A data governance council is a useful place for strengthening the relationship between business and IT where information can be freely exchanged and decisions can be made based on mutual interest. The data governance council should consist of data stewards from various business areas. The agenda for the council meetings should be prepared in advance, which will help facilitate the operation of the council and effectively utilize this platform to get valuable information and inputs from the participants.

4. Develop an ongoing BI and data-training program for business. Businesspeople will get a lot of benefit from these trainings. During the planning course, decisions need to be made about:

  • Audience. Different users will need different levels of detailed information. For example, power user can be presented with very detailed data while executives will only be interested in the high-level landscape.
  • Frequency. Too much education will require too much time from all the participants, and too little education can easily get them distracted from the issues. There should be a balance of how often the training is scheduled and based on my experience, once every month seems to be appropriate.
  • Material. A combination of handouts and online references is a good way to provide everything they need to know about .

5. Decide the right tools/media for user communication and training. Tools may include:

  • Demonstrations of dashboards and management reporting to executives,
  • Use remote online Web seminar for off-site sales representatives,
  • Demonstrations of reporting portal and mechanism of executing reports to casual users and
  • In-class hands-on training for power users.

6. Deliver. Business is the customer of IT, and providing high quality customer service means delivering systems with the functions and features needed by the business so that they can spend their time more profitably. Delivering the correct high quality product to business is one of the most critical factors in establishing a the business/IT partnership.


7. Set up Q&A group. Users will constantly have questions the DW/BI program, the data and about the reports. So, a Q&A group is very helpful to address those questions. Many content management systems offer a place for people to post questions, and answers can be posted afterward. With the accumulation of questions and answers, a FAQ section can be built on the content management system.

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