A few months ago, I wrote a column about putting the "business" back into business intelligence (BI). I received quite a few comments on that column - most of them asking me to delve more deeply into the topic. I'm happy to oblige!In that column in March 2007, I discussed three keys to putting the business back into BI. They were:

  • Aligning BI initiatives with corporate strategic goals and objectives;
  • Understanding how your company employs BI tools and technologies to determine whether your BI efforts support your corporate strategy; and
  • Examining - and changing, if necessary - your company's business processes to more effectively support BI initiatives, thereby supporting the corporate strategy.

The first key garnered the most interest, so it's the one I'll discuss in this column. To begin the process of aligning BI with corporate strategic goals and objectives, the idea is to determine whether the BI tools and technologies support your business - and the way you do business. If your BI tools and technologies do support the business, they're more likely to align with and support your business strategy.
It's been my experience that companies whose BI initiatives are aligned with their corporate strategies take two important steps. They:

  • Focus on the business value and eliminate their BI anarchy, and
  • Bring the appropriate resources to bear and use a collaborative approach to problem solving.

I know it seems like there should be more to it than that, but these two steps can be applied to almost any company and situation. Every company has individual needs, of course, but I've found that companies that take these two steps are generally more effective at aligning BI and corporate strategy.
Many companies have created a technically anarchical state for themselves by adopting a smorgasbord approach to BI. They've tried a little bit of everything that caught their eye, and they've kept it - usually much to their detriment.

Conduct a BI Tools Study

I am not naive enough to suggest standardization on a single BI tool or application suite - although that would be my ideal for the perfect world we don't inhabit. However, what you can do is conduct a thorough analytical study of your BI tools to determine which of those add value to your business and which simply add to monthly maintenance costs.

The result of your study should be a plan to cull your BI tools to a critical few that work effectively across business functions and departments, that are relatively easy to maintain and that meet the requirements of the largest percentage of users. By cutting out the BI "fat" in your environment, you'll increase the likelihood of having more accurate, consistent information that is coalesced into just a few information repositories - and that can be delivered to people when they need it. Better information can lead to more informed decisions, which help improve your company's ability to meet strategic objectives.

It's also important to bring the right resources to bear in aligning BI with corporate strategy and using a collaborative approach to problem solving. The people on IT projects often play the most significant role in determining a project's results.

It's important to have resources from all levels - customer-facing to the C-suite - who understand their jobs and can contribute positively to the process. These people can use their business insight and the knowledge of their particular job function to help forge consensus on which BI applications are useful and which are simply ineffective at meeting the strategic goals of the company as they're outlined.

As for collaborative problem solving, it's a must-have in my experience. Management simply can't dictate to knowledge workers which systems they can and can't use to do their jobs. All system users (or representatives from all user groups) should have input into the process of selecting which BI systems will or will not be implemented. Using a collaborative approach can foster cooperation and trust between management and staff. That improved relationship can lead to workers being motivated to use the systems they've selected to help the company reach its goals.

Aligning BI initiatives with the corporate strategy will probably not prove to be an easy task. It's like trying to hit a moving target using an off-target sight. However, companies should consider ways to make the process easier. To start, take frank looks at which BI systems work and which don't, in your present information-needs environment. Bringing the appropriate resources to the task and using a collaborative approach to getting the job done will also help. In the end, though, it will still take a lot of work and difficult decisions. Just rest assured that the end result will likely be well worth the effort.

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte Consulting LLP is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, financial, investment or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional adviser. Deloitte Consulting LLP, its affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

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