Executive oversight and support, which I described in last month's column, is a cornerstone of an effective business intelligence (BI) program. In this month's column, I will delve into another aspect of governance - direction setting. BI continuously evolves, and a direction set a few years ago may not be appropriate today.

During the last few years, we have seen companies incorporate operational decision support into their BI environments. Enterprise information integration (EII) and enterprise application integration (EAI) technologies are integral to many BI programs. With changes such as these, the mission statement and guiding principles that were set as little as two or three years ago may no longer be germane. For example, one company's mission statement is that "BI provides a business view of the right information at the right time, in the right place and in the right form." If the company is applying BI for business process management, this statement still applies, but it doesn't encompass the operational nature of the new applications. The company should revisit this statement to make it more applicable. The company may totally rewrite it or may simply append it with "to support operational, tactical and strategic reporting and analysis needs." This simple addition emphasizes the shift from traditional strategic emphasis to today's applications.

Guiding principles, which are statements that drive practices within BI, are more specific. They may address areas such as architecture, access, quality, metadata, methodology, sharability, stewardship, timeliness and tools. Each statement should provide appropriate guidance, and information should be available to help people understand why it is important to follow the principle and what it means to the way they perform their jobs. Following are sample guiding principles:

  • The BI infrastructure will facilitate sharing of consistent information across the company.
  • The contents of the data warehouse will be documented in a repository.
  • Data will be accessible to any person within the company with a legitimate business need.

On the surface these are simple statements, but they have broad implications. The third bullet, for example, implicitly dictates that information will be shared and that security will be in place to prevent unauthorized access. Further, someone must determine the legitimacy of the business need before granting access.

Guiding Principles Development

The most effective method for developing guiding principles is through facilitated sessions, possibly augmented by a survey. The facilitated sessions should include eight to 12 key stakeholders who represent the various BI communities - sponsors, business analysts and users, IT leaders and BI team members. The facilitator should be familiar with guiding principles and be prepared to provide education and examples. Through facilitated sessions, participants should create a set of eight to 10 guiding principles. If necessary, the principles can be confirmed through a survey that involves a wider audience. Prior to publication, the group should develop three important auxiliary pieces of information about each guiding principle:

  • Rationale: The reason that the guiding principle is important.
  • Impact: The effect that the guiding principle will have on the organization.
  • Metrics: Measurements that can be used to gauge the degree to which the principle is being followed.

Once the guiding principles are drafted, the executive sponsor and steering committee should review them, and their feedback should be incorporated. The guiding principles can then be disseminated with the support of the executives.

Periodic Review

Guiding principles provide a good focus to the BI program, and they need to be reviewed at least every two years. The review should address both history and the future. The historical review should examine the degree to which the guiding principle is being followed. It can be performed through a survey of people involved with BI within the company.

If a guiding principle is not being followed, it is merely a statement - it doesn't truly guide activities. When the review indicates that the principle is not being followed, root causes should be examined. The typical reasons are that 1) the creators were overly optimistic, 2) key stakeholders in making this happen were not part of the group that developed it, or 3) the executive sponsors didn't feel it was important. If a guiding principle is not being followed, it either needs to be revised or the executive sponsors must take steps to enforce it.

The review of the guiding principles with an eye to the future is more difficult. This review requires key stakeholders to work together and envision the role that BI will play in the coming years. With that in mind, the group can review and refine guiding principles to ensure they provide direction for the future.

The mission statement and guiding principles set the direction for BI. The guiding principles are tangible; they directly impact the way activities are performed by individuals within the company. They require support from the sponsor and steering committee to ensure compliance. Because the BI program evolves over time, the mission statement and guiding principles should be reviewed and refined periodically.  

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