I am among the growing number of IT professionals who worry that business intelligence (BI) is in danger of becoming a dirty word. Why? Because BI initiatives often veer off course and become giant, money-sucking, bottomless abysses more commonly known as "long-term IT projects." These projects often rapidly burn through resources with huge technology investments. In these situations, folks in the C-suite can quickly become disillusioned with the project's progress. As a result, funding often evaporates, killing the projects.

It doesn't have to be this way. A BI initiative can be indispensable. Effective BI capabilities are essential to monitoring and managing business performance, understanding business events in context and developing strategies to help grow the business. The problem is that many companies lose the business part of the BI project. They generally focus too much on how BI tools can help them to slice and dice data and not enough on how BI as a concept can help them understand their business and meet strategic objectives.

A different view of BI is needed. The notion that BI projects are IT projects must be left behind. It's an outmoded way of using technology. BI projects should not be owned by IT. They are, at their very core (as the name implies), business projects that require extensive support from IT to implement.

The business side of the house creates the corporate strategies as well as the metrics that are used to measure how effectively those strategies are being executed. Businesspeople also have the knowledge to correctly interpret data - and to turn those various, fragmented pieces of data they receive into actionable information that can be used to help improve business performance.

Unfortunately, however, many BI projects become bogged down by technology issues or, even worse, are built strictly to meet slice-and-dice data requirements. Instead, BI projects should be aligned with and address the needs of the business. To do that, the business - not IT - should own BI initiatives. (By "business" I mean the business functions collectively, including the people who execute them.)

There are several keys to putting the business back in BI. They all revolve around one concept, however. That concept, which should guide the implementation of any BI initiative, is that BI is a strategic, not technical, initiative.

With that in mind, the first key to effectively re-insert the business into BI is to align every BI initiative with the company's strategic goals and objectives. Information is only valuable if it is useful. It is only useful if it helps you run your business effectively and improve business performance. The only way to obtain usable information from the IT systems is for those systems to support the business strategy. For example, if a strategic goal is to achieve 15 percent sales growth in several targeted markets over the next fiscal year, the company needs information from the IT systems that helps determine whether the goal is being met - and if not, to help understand why.

The second key to putting the business back in BI is to understand how your company currently employs BI technologies, how you can employ BI technologies to align BI initiatives with corporate strategic goals and how your current tools, technologies, applications and information architecture should be changed or augmented to support the new alignment. This is a direct corollary to the first key. It is critical that you deploy your BI capabilities to support the alignment with, and the achievement of, your corporate strategic objectives. It is all about getting the right information to the right people when they need it. I know that money is difficult to come by these days, but it is essential that any IT funding that is available be spent wisely by aligning technological capabilities with strategic goals.

The third key is to examine how you do business - your critical business processes - to determine whether those processes help you to achieve the alignment of BI with strategic objectives. The way that business processes are structured is a big determinant of what information you receive from your IT systems and how you use that information. So, it's crucial that the company's processes support providing the correct information as well as the intelligent use of that information. Again, it is all about alignment with strategic goals. If the processes support the strategic goals, the information that management works with should also support those goals.

I'm a firm believer that BI capabilities are one of the most critical IT resources that companies possess. And, just as with any other resource, they must be used in the most effective way to achieve their potential benefit. It just makes sense that the most effective way to employ BI technology is to let the business take the lead and align all those sophisticated, powerful (and expensive!) technologies with the overall corporate strategy to increase the likelihood that BI initiatives always support strategic objectives. 

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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