Initiating a business intelligence program is unlike the launching of a traditional application development project. The most significant difference is due to the data (versus process) orientation of the effort and the importance of building a strong foundation that can accommodate change. Unlike processes, which are often aligned with organizational responsibilities, data frequently crosses organizational boundaries and doesn't carry with it a clear line of responsibility. For BI programs, this creates difficulties in determining succinct definitions, gaining consensus on business rules, establishing quality expectations, and determining access rights and permissible usage.  

Enterprises contemplating a BI program should assess their readiness to move forward and create a charter for the overall program.

Readiness Assessment

Readiness assessments, which may be performed internally or using external resources, provide an objective evaluation of the organization's knowledge, culture, technical environment, data, processes and organization to determine what adjustments (if any) are necessary to maximize the potential for success.

Organizational knowledge: The key question to consider is whether or not the enterprise understands what BI is, what it takes to deliver BI capabilities and how BI can help leverage the information assets of the firm. Deficiencies in this area are often overcome through education, hiring people with BI experience or engaging outside resources with an emphasis on knowledge transfer. Culture: It is beneficial to consider whether or not the enterprise is open to sharing and collaboration. Data is a shared resource, and if there are constraints to cross-departmental cooperation, the program will likely evolve into siloed initiatives. Deficiencies in this area require active involvement of key executive stakeholders and the establishment of a formal governance structure with the authority to break down the unwarranted barriers.

Technical environment: Determine whether the existing platform can support the BI needs and whether additional tools (e.g., extract, transform and load, data profiling, information delivery) are required. A realistic projection of the volumes and usage patterns is needed to effectively project the capacity and processing capabilities required. The resulting gaps will require the evaluation, selection and deployment of tools and technologies. Data: Data is the soul of the BI environment. The assessment must determine the availability and quality of the needed data. In addition, the firm's data management practices must be evaluated to determine if they can adequately support a BI program. Formal data profiling may be required to assess the data and identify actions that ensure its quality. Formal data management practices, including standards, data model usage and data stewardship will also need to be established if they don't already exist.

Processes: Business processes must be compatible to BI program objectives. To address deficiencies in this area, review best practice BI methodologies and, if needed, modify the company's methodology to encompass the unique characteristics of BI projects. Organization: Consider the degree to which the BI roles and responsibilities have been defined as well as the skills and experiences that are available to fulfill those roles. Several publications describe the roles typically required, and deficiencies can be overcome through a combination of education, training and recruiting. 

By itself, a readiness assessment does not remediate the problems uncovered. Based on the assessment results, a realistic plan for addressing any deficiencies should be developed and put into action. Salient parts of the plan should be incorporated into the program charter.

Program Charter

The program charter establishes the overall direction and scope of the program. It should be a brief document that includes information on the business drivers, overall scope, roles and responsibilities, methodology, architecture, business value and risks. 

  • Business drivers describe the BI vision and the reasons this approach is being pursued.
  • The overall scope describes the major areas to be addressed by BI, with some detail provided for the first few increments. The sequence of the increments may be adjusted as the program gets underway.
  • The major roles and responsibilities are delineated at both the organizational and individual levels. This includes the governance and data stewardship structures as well.
  • The methodology describes (at a high level) the development and support processes to be pursued. These get transformed into the major activities within project-planning templates.
  • The conceptual architecture and its implications are described, along with a migration plan for getting there.
  • Business value provides the major costs and benefits for the program and the first few increments.
  • The major risks are identified. Each risk should include an assessment of its probability (how likely is it that the risk will materialize?) and severity (what's the impact if it happens?). For significant risks, mitigating actions should also be indicated.

The program charter should be reviewed and sanctioned by the key stakeholders overseeing the program.
Initiating a BI program represents a change to the way information will be provided and used. It is very important for a company to understand its capabilities before undertaking this effort. Once these are assessed, a program charter, which includes steps to remedy any gaps in the capabilities, should be developed. 

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