The business intelligence (BI) center of excellence (COE) is a set of people, processes and technologies for promoting collaboration and the application of BI best practices. This group can be composed of a set of cross-functional teams that work to drive BI through the enterprise. Implemented properly, a COE with robust capabilities can provide considerable value to the organization. In addition to preparing the organization to deploy advanced BI applications, such as operational BI and event-based marketing, some of the benefits include:

  • Treating data as an asset. Recognizing data as a strategic asset entails developing policies governing the data, establishing quality standards for the data and assigning formal data stewardship. The COE can spearhead these activities and monitor compliance.
  • Reducing total cost of ownership (TCO). Developing data warehouse components so they can be reused, providing templates that work for all projects, standardizing on a common set of tools and technologies, and eliminating redundant activity, data stores and applications is a focus of the COE and can minimize TCO for the BI program.
  • Ensuring business value. Aligning BI projects with business objectives and ensuring that the BI program keeps pace with changing business direction is critical to leveraging the data warehouse to provide maximum value. The COE will constantly monitor program direction and ensure alignment with the business.

Providing all of these benefits requires that the COE covers a lot of ground. Areas of responsibility must span both business and technology. One proven method of organizing the COE to ensure appropriate resources is to develop two teams: getting data in (GDI) and getting information out (GIO).

 

GDI is a technical group that focuses on data integration and data quality. They are responsible for getting data from the operational environment into the data warehouse, and they perform all the data acquisition activities. They create and maintain the data warehouse and staging area databases. They ensure that all data in the data warehouse has common definitions and uses across the organization. They monitor the data warehouse so it consistently meets or exceeds the service level agreements (SLAs) developed with the business community. And they have responsibility for creating and maintaining the technical metadata. This group is generally a centrally located team reporting to the IT department and includes among its roles a program manager; a BI architect; an extract, transform and load (ETL) architect; ETL developers; business analysts; data analysts; and occasionally, a data warehouse database administrator (DBA). Best practices for the GDI include the following:

  • Determine a standard set of data integration and data quality technologies.
  • Establish a technical metadata repository.
  • Communicate what data is available to the GIO center.
  • Establish a culture of reuse for data mappings to operational systems, ETL code and enterprise data models.
  • Work with the business community to identify business data stewards and data quality standards.

GIO is a business-oriented group that acts as a bridge between business communities using BI and the IT developers creating the data warehouse. They focus on understanding business needs and translating those needs into specifications for reports, dashboards and other data delivery mechanisms. They ensure that new data requirements are communicated back to the GDI center, and they communicate data quality problems to both the GDI center and the business community. They develop custom BI reports, scorecards and dashboards; handle much of the training and business unit support; and develop strong knowledge of business processes across the organization. This group can be decentralized to report to individual business lines as long as there is a central component responsible for developing templates and standards, coordinating the development and use of end-user applications and identifying overlapping applications for combination or retirement. The decentralized components of this group typically include roles for business analysts, delivery developers and tool configuration specialists. The centralized component can be incorporated into the GDI center and includes the program manager and a GIO specialist with the skills to develop best practice templates and recognize overlapping applications. Best practices for the GIO include the following:

  • Establish expertise in how the business interfaces with a BI environment.
  • Maintain expertise about business community’s usage patterns and procedures and develop business training programs for the data warehouse.
  • Determine a standard set of data access technologies.
  • Establish the business metadata repository.
  • Act as evangelists in the business community espousing the benefits of the data warehouse and convincing the business to utilize the BI environment rather than building standalone reporting and analysis applications.

Building the teams and developing the required skills is the first step to implementing a robust COE that can help to take the BI environment to the enterprise level. Of equal importance is to develop the governance mechanisms and cultivate the executive sponsorship that will enable initial and ongoing funding of the COE, guide the COE in selecting data warehouse projects that provide true business value, and facilitate compliance with COE policies and practices. Next month, I will delve into the role of governance in a successful COE.

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