Today, leaders of business intelligence (BI) initiatives face challenges that are less about the development of the technologies and more about adaptation - specifically, adapting to the insights they derive from their endeavors with BI. Thus, despite its promise, BI is not consistently delivering the return on investment that C-level executives have expected. Some companies, after spending millions of dollars, have yanked the plug on their BI projects. Remorse is common.
BI projects were initially sold for solid business reasons, as a means of delivering deeper performance insights, transforming and streamlining dysfunctional operations and reducing general risks. What has gone wrong? Some blame the lackluster results on the number, mix and integration of technologies - but technology alone is rarely the root cause of the problems. The cause is more systemic: BI can force uncomfortable and often rapid changes on an organization, and not all companies can absorb and operationalize those changes effectively. Poorly run BI initiatives can actually create more problems than they were intended to solve.
With BI, everything converges upon data. Consider the types of changes BI creates: new database schemas, renamed database columns, new report requirements, systems retirement, new data marts, merger or acquisition and extract, transform and load (ETL) processes are replatformed from one technology to another. These kinds of changes often occur concurrently, and all of them affect business operations and their supporting data. This intense focus on data means that BI programs should proactively facilitate data integration caused by change they initiate. With governance, BI programs can reduce data redundancy, minimize systemic risks and promote new business functionality, data integrity and data reuse. Without control, organizations can quickly and easily perpetuate data anomalies across business processes. Those anomalies can expose a company to unnecessary risk and unanticipated levels of spending.
How can companies effectively manage change caused by BI? And, more importantly, how can companies increase the chance of the business successfully adopting the results of each initiative? The approach described recognizes data as the common point of convergence for managing changes to a business architecture. The approach emphasizes 10 activities that should be used as a checklist by those accountable for BI success to corroborate the effectiveness of existing processes (see Figure 1).
1. Acknowledge. Any need to change business operations or performance reporting should first be acknowledged. A formal request should include the business purpose, business and technical impact of the change, sponsor, stakeholders, time frames, resources, budget, value and specific measures by which the organization will know whether or not the change has been successfully implemented and adopted by the business.
Facilitating change assessment should not be underestimated. Again, change comes in different forms, such as adding characteristics to product, altering the customer hierarchy or adding a metric to a fact table. Upstream changes in transaction systems can also impact downstream BI capabilities, such as adding a new B2B channel partner, changing a table-driven pricing engine to accommodate new parameters or adding new modules to an ERP package. These types of changes often alter underlying data models or data definitions.
2. Assess. Upon acknowledgement, business and technical architects should qualify each change to identify: a) the true benefits of the change, such as improved competitive strength, workforce productivity, market growth, asset utilization or operational insight; b) the impact of the change on the business and IT; c) whether or not the adoption criteria are measurable and achievable; and d) the risk with respect to financial, regulatory, investor, tax and operational customer reporting. The assessment must separate "wants" (optional or nonoptimal) from "needs" (changes critical to business operations.)
All change proposals, regardless of budgetary impact, should go through this initial gate review. What happens when companies establish monetary request thresholds? Lesser budgets are often automatically approved. The unintended consequence: lots of disconnected projects. These activities can quickly spread like viruses across an organization, taking on a life of their own and absorbing more than their fair share of critical resources. Over time, left unchecked, unauthorized and undocumented changes to business processes, systems and data increase a company's exposure to risk. Organizations that successfully conduct change assessments can ensure that the weight of nonintegrated change requests does not take mission-critical initiatives under.
3. Approach. After assessing the business benefits and change-related impacts, architects may accept the request and prioritize and sequence the actions or work necessary to implement the request. Alternatively, they may provide reasons to deny or postpone the change. This second gate review includes a detailed review of the triple constraint: costs, resources and time frames, and possibly the identification of a project manager to begin outlining a charter, high-level project plan, major milestones and interdependencies with other approved investments currently underway.
4. Authorize. A joint business and technical steering committee conducts the third and final gate review. This body is responsible for reviewing the change proposal and its adoption success criteria. The committee either authorizes (funds) the operationalization of the change or denies the need for the change. Ideally, officers from across the organization will comprise this body because of their accountability for the viability of the company's operations. Some organizations refer to this body collectively as data stewards. Formal authorization establishes a consistent method of ranking, comparing and selecting investments whose impact on the business can be measured over time. This should foster innovative, responsive investment methods, calculated risk taking to allow a corporation to fund cross-business unit priorities and corporate-wide initiatives to respond quickly to new business needs independent of any budgeting cycle. It also should improve the alignment of resources to those investments.
5. Assign. For approved proposals, the steering committee officers jointly assign accountability to the right sponsor from within their group to operationalize the proposed changes. At this point, the committee funds the project and sets expectations about outcomes that should result.
6. Act. The project team executes the project to operationalize proposed changes in the business. Most organizations will have different methods for implementing different types of changes; that is, managing the implementation of an approved database change will require a different process than deploying a new transaction system. Some organizations experience difficulty in selecting the right method to implement a type of change, or they may mistakenly believe that a single process will work for any type of change.
7. Administer. Different groups within an organization such as data management can administer or monitor the project. Regardless of which group takes responsibility, successful administration requires the visibility and responsibility to track all authorized changes to business operations. Because changes to business processes and systems ultimately converge around data, this group ideally should have a strong focus on data management and ensuring data integrity across operations, in particular. At a minimum, this group should ensure that a) systemic risks, such as data redundancy, manual interdependencies and inconsistent data proxy, are mitigated as a part of the solution; b) the solution maintains the integrity of the data, keeping the business in a consistent state; and c) conflicts are resolved swiftly, objectively and in a manner acceptable to the business.
8. Adopt. Adoption is the true measure of the success of any change implementation. Although adoption may encompass different kinds of activities for different organizations, it should address the following at a minimum: a) deploying the right personnel and skills to new roles and responsibilities; b) establishing the right business policies, procedures and tools to guide the operation of the functionality; c) installing, configuring and validating the physical and functional components (hardware, software, networking, facilities, etc.); and d) putting in place service levels for the proposed performance criteria to measure the results of the new functionality.
9. Analyze. Analysis provides the means to measure and report the success and rate of business adoption using the proposed performance criteria that were submitted as a part of the original change request.
10. Audit. A quality management function ensures that the entire governance process is managed effectively and efficiently to the advantage of the business. Each step in the process can and should have established measures or service levels.
The Benefits of Effective Governance for BI Initiatives
Many in the organization will feel that governance slows things down with an expensive and unnecessary overhead. However, as C-level executives become less tolerant of both funded and unfunded activities that promise much and deliver little, the importance of effective governance rises each year.
The governance approach described here delivers a number of important benefits to companies looking for better adoption of their BI initiatives by the business:
- Raising the awareness of the strategic importance of data,
- Addressing the need to adequately assess whether or not a change to business operations and its supporting data will expose the company to risk,
- Creating a shift away from discretionary budgets to coordinated funding and integrated systems development and deployment,
- Using a single corporate-wide process to ensure all changes to business operations are authorized, and
- Ensuring that all changes to business operations explicitly address mitigating systemic risks to improve overall data quality and the integrity of performance reporting.
BI is, after all, a business investment, and this governance approach provides a framework for executives to assess the adequacy of their controls around changes to business operations, which in turn affect the integrity of a company's data. These officers, accountable for control over critical company data and answerable to Wall Street, must do more than guess at how changes will affect corporate data. Executives on the fast track handle change governance like a well-engineered machine, using it as a strategic tool to maintain control and overtake competitors.
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