For the third year in a row, business intelligence (BI) applications have been ranked the top technology priority in the 2008 Gartner Executive Programs survey of 1,500 chief information officers (CIOs).1 Another recent report by Gartner indicates that businesses aren't effectively implementing a BI strategy, which could limit achievement of business goals.2 Have you executed a BI strategy, and the BI strategy you arrived at has landed in organizational closet. Are you trying to find an answer on what went wrong and what could have done better to make the BI strategy acceptable across the organization?

 

Creating a BI strategy that is easily acceptable to different units within your organization takes much more than just sound BI knowledge. You need the right approach, techniques and few smart moves to make your strategy actionable and attractive enough to remain outside the organizational closet. Before we understand how to make the BI strategy acceptable in the organization, let us define BI strategy. A BI strategy is a long-term plan for an enterprise-wide BI architecture that is designed to make the organization agile, adaptable and efficient by enabling better decision-making. A sound BI strategy would help the organization to leverage information assets effectively for achieving competitive edge in the market.

 

BI strategy is different from taking immediate actions with the resources at hand and is usually developed over a period of 3 years or more. The BI strategy should guide and lead organizational thinking and behavior to use information as strategic assets. BI strategy should have a comprehensive approach and method for describing the current and dynamic future behavior of an organization's processes, information systems, personnel and organizational units, so that they align with the organization's goals and strategic direction. Effective BI strategy should ensure that business strategy and IT investments are aligned. We will now provide the right approach for creating a successful BI strategy that would gel well in the overall enterprise framework and at the same time be politically acceptable within the organization. We will also see the important tricks you should deploy at different stages to make your BI strategy sociable and work toward achieving your organizational goals in nine steps.

 

The First Step: Get Stakeholders Onboard

 

Identifying the executive-level sponsorship and key stakeholders who are committed to make organization information centric is the first step toward a successful BI strategy. If there are several groups that would benefit from the BI strategy, the group that is most influential in the organization should drive the BI strategy. A clear, actionable and achievable objective of the strategy should be defined. This objective should be endorsed by all the stakeholders. The scope of the BI strategy should be drawn within the boundaries of the objective. The functional boundaries of the BI strategy should also be laid down.

 

The next most critical thing is the name to be given to the BI strategy. The name given to the BI strategy should clearly reflect the business objective of the BI strategy. This makes it easy to set expectations for the outcome of the BI strategy. A detailed project plan should be created outlining activities, resources, milestones and expected deliverables. A meeting planner should be published in advance to ensure time commitments from key subject matter experts and stakeholders. Once the initial foundation is set for the strategy, it is important to inaugurate the BI strategy with an official kick-off meeting. This should include participation from all the key associates within the organization who would play crucial roles in executing the BI strategy. Their participation would also show that you consider them an important part of this strategy, and they would hopefully feel an obligation to make the BI strategy a success.

 

The Second Step: Understand As-Is Business and IT Landscape

 

We are now all set for BI strategy execution with the correct launch pad, plan and ammunitions. Understanding current business processes, data and the associated IT environment is a good starting point for taking the strategy forward. A good understanding of the business functions and processes should be gathered by meeting the business team. The BI strategy team should be well prepared with a questionnaire and agenda before the meeting.

 

There could be two possible scenarios while doing the BI strategy, one in which the organization does not have a defined BI environment and another where the BI environment exist but is not aligned with business objectives. If there is no existing BI environment, the first logical step is to conduct a BI maturity assessment prior to embarking on the BI journey. Start by assessing the BI maturity that exists in the organization with industry standards. Define the business objectives, information needs and data available to understand what would be feasible within the BI strategy scope. In case we already have a BI environment within the organization, we should start with the as-is analysis of business processes, associated data and intelligent decision-making by carrying out source systems analysis and analysis of various BI components, such as the data integration layer, staging areas, operational data store, data warehouse, data marts and the reporting environment. The existing system should be analyzed by direct access to quality assurance or pre-production environment. Output of as-is analysis should be well documented with pictorial representation of existing functional and information management architecture. A pictorial view of both existing functional and existing information management architecture would help in discussions and brainstorming throughout the BI strategy.

 

The Third Step: Gather and Analyze the “To Be” Needs

 

Interviews and focus group discussion techniques should be conducted to gain insight into the challenges faced by business users in accessing and using information. Surveys could be conducted for capturing the voice of the larger user community where one-on-one discussion is not possible. Planning of the meetings and getting the right people within the organization together for discussions is the most crucial part of the BI strategy. How effectively the BI strategy team is able to do this activity would determine the failure or success of the BI strategy. All the data gathered by these techniques should be well documented and promptly sent back to respective groups for their feedback after the meetings. This would again ensure that you have kept all the groups with the organization involved. At the same time you would be able to check that what you heard from the business is the same as what you have interpreted. This process would raise the credibility of the study, and the BI users would sense seriousness of the outcome and the value of their time they gave you. The various challenges and suggestions gathered from these data gathering techniques should be categorized into broad areas such as change management, governance, data management and challenges with tools. These main categories can be further subdivided into smaller categories as depicted in Figure 1. This categorization technique will aid analysis and understanding of the problems in BI environment.

 

 

Any previous studies done by the organization in the area of BI strategy should also be leveraged in defining the “to be” needs. The challenges discovered by such studies should be identified and categorized. Once we have gathered and segregated the challenges as described above, we will have good data to interpret the “to be” needs. Summarize the counts of the challenges gathered from our findings in various categories and subcategories by various functional groups within the organization to come up with statistics of the challenges faced, as shown in Figure 2. Outcomes of the above exercise would lead to well-defined “to be” state need of the organization in the form of most challenges faced by different units like HR, finance, etc.

 

 

The outcome of the “to be” needs phase should be presented back to the business users. This would bring more acceptance to the findings and also a feel-good factor within the organization that the BI strategy team is on the right track. Representing the data we have gathered will help the business users to visualize the challenges and issues they face everyday.

 

The Fourth Step: Gap Analysis

 

By this time, we have a good understanding of the exiting BI landscape. We also know the major challenges and problem areas of the business users. We now need to measure where the organization stands in terms of BI best practices in the market. The gap analysis between the best practices in the industry versus the organization’s as-is BI environment would help us to quantify the weak areas of BI. In order to arrive at gap analysis, for each of our challenges in subcategories i.e., business process, communication, support, data integration, etc., we have to come up with best practices in the industry that are relevant to the organization. We than have to assign weights to the best practice based on how it is applicable to your organization and its criticality based on the “to be” needs. The next thing to do is assign a score to each best practices based on your analysis of the as-is state. In order to do this, compliance to each best practice with respect to the challenges identified within the organization should be rated on a scale of 1 through 5 where 1 = very low, 2 = low, 3 = medium, 4 = high and 5 = very high. Actual scoring would be a multiplication of individual scores and the weights that are assigned. Figure 3 depicts a sample scoring model.

 

Figure 3: The Scoring Model (See PDF below)

 

A spider chart as shown in Figure 4 should be plotted based on the final scoring. This spider chart displays the difference in existing organizational BI implementation versus best practices in industry.

 

 

The gap analysis spider chart depicts the weak areas in the existing BI environment at a glance. It is a very effective way to understand the areas of improvements in the existing BI landscape. However, in order to do this exercise, it is critical that you have the right assets and knowledge to gather the industry best practices and map those to your organizational needs identified from the “to be” needs. The gap analysis would clearly get the right focus to design the architecture that would address the problem area.

 

The Fifth Step: The Functional Architecture

 

Before we design the technical architecture that would be the skeleton of the BI strategy, it is important to fill it with the right functional entities. The functional architecture, consisting of the conceptual data model (CDM)that will have the business entitiesand the relationship between them, would address this. We will have to identify all the business processes in the scope of work and identify various key performance indicators (KPIs) with their dimensionalities. This will aid in groupingthe KPIs under various business processes and prioritizing the functional needs in the BIframework. A bus matrix as shown below should be created to arrive at a full-fledged functional landscape.

 

Figure 5: Process – Function Bus Matrix (See PDF below)

 

The functional architecture would not only aid understanding the information overlap in organization but would also help to cover the critical aspects of implementation. A phase-wise implementation roadmap based on the prioritization of critical process should be done in the functional architecture.

 

The Sixth Step: The “To Be” State Architecture Options and Evaluation

 

We now have all the required inputs and are ready to design the technical architecture. Technical architecture refers to the structured process of designing and building Systems architecture, with focus on the users' and sponsors' view of the environment. We will have to design the technical architecture with a view to meet the challenges identified in the “to be” needs, close the gaps identified and at the same time have a long-term vision of technology evolution in the market. Based on this, there would be several ways of designing the future architecture. We will need to brainstorm and arrive at about three to four architectures and then do a technical architecture assessment to select the best option. Technical architecture assessment is based on various key architecture principles (KAPs) from nonfunctional requirements perspective. The KAPs include various parameters like scalability, performance, availability, stability, usability, flexibility, reliability, extensibility, security, maintainability, governance and cost. All these parameters should be evaluated for each architecture options with a scoring model similar to the one performed for gap analysis, keeping in mind the “to be” needs.

 

 

The dashboard-based KAP scoring for each option, as shown in Figure 6, would indicate the best architecture option that would meet the organization's current challenges and future needs.

 

The Seventh Step: Tool Selection

 

After selecting the right technical architecture, we need to enable it with the right set of tools. The process of selecting tools is typically complex, during which many features need to be evaluated in line with the KAPs. The features required to meet the BI needs of users to overcome the challenges identified in the “to be” needs should be identified and categorized under various KAPs. We should than deploy a scoring model, as we did in the gap analysis, to arrive at the dashboard for evaluating various tools in the market.

 

 

This process would measure how effectively the recommended tools would meet the BI needs of the organization. In case we arrive at a situation where the scores come close for different products, we will have to go for a proof of concept to see which is the best fit for our suggested architecture.

 

The Eighth Step: Implementation Roadmap

 

We now have the best technical architecture for the organization, which has been recommended by understanding both the short-term as well as long-term goals and also BI tools that would help to meet the user’s needs. Bringing the transformation into the BI environment without a robust implementation roadmap may present challenges and roadblocks. In order to ensure that the recommended architecture gets implemented successfully, a phased approach with good planning is essential. The analysis and recommendation at this stage should be presented as a draft deliverable to the stakeholders. The concerns and feedback from the stakeholders should be then incorporated and required changes should be made. Finally, come up with an implementation plan to deliver recommendations. We will have to create the right ambience to launch the future architecture. This would need a good level of maturity within the business and IT team. A competency center should be set up, which would be a knowledge repository and form the base of a good metadata framework and governance for the future architecture. In case there is no existing BI environment, a detailed business system requirements phase should be executed before getting into detail design and development. If there is already an existing BI environment, we should rationalize the existing data warehouse and reporting environment. All these activities should be planned and incorporated in the implementation roadmap in a phased manner and divided in tracks as shown in Figure 8.

 

 

The Ninth Step: The Final Step Toward BI strategy Socialization

 

We are now all set to invite our guests to the party. The party will be in the form of the final presentation to all the key members from various units across the organization. It is always advisable to have this party a week before the final end date of the BI strategy so that we can align the BI strategy as per suggestions from our guests. The menu for the party has been selected as per the taste of our guests. The food is cooked well and has been pretested by stakeholders in the kitchen. We are now confident to get the food out of the kitchen and serve it to our guests. It is always difficult to satisfy all the guests in a party. However, you need to identify the guests who would be most influential and would influence your BI strategy in the organization. You need to serve them well and make them happy. You will need to understand their concerns and how this strategy could be aligned to meet their objectives. From this point onward it’s just the relationship that will influence your strategy and make it more acceptable. Based on the mined feedback from key members in the final presentation, the BI strategy team should internally debrief and make the required changes to the final BI stratgey deliverable document that would support the most influential group within the organization. Once this is done, you have a BI strategy that will be embraced by the organization and will speak for itself.

 

*All the figures in the article are for representation only. They do not reflect actual evaluation of any vendor.

 

References:

 

  1. Gartner. “Gartner EXP Worldwide Survey of 1,500 CIOs” Yahoo.com, January 28, 2008.
  2. IT Business Edge. “Gartner Says Businesses Need Solid BI Strategy.” TMCnet.com, March 15, 2007.

 

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