Valuing information is the essence of business intelligence (BI). Last month I discussed how the CIO can champion BI by including metrics and other BI content in business and information technology (IT) strategies. This approach engages business and IT executives in metrics and performance measures that promote BI; however, it is limited because few organizations develop or use strategies. Architectures, however, are critical to managing the IT environment and its services, and can be the primary vehicle for a CIO to champion BI inside the company.

Architectures have traditionally focused on core IT technology and application systems. Technology and application architectures are critical IT components for processing the massive volumes of business transactions that occur every day. Information architecture complements these by specifying the data foundation of business applications; however, this creates an abstract view, typically represented in an enterprise data model, that makes this architecture less useful than its technology and application counterparts. With the rise of the Internet, information architecture is also used to describe the design of the user's experience in acquiring or viewing information through Web sites and portals.

As IT became more intertwined with business operations and reengineering of business processes became fashionable, business architecture emerged. This architecture maps business activities into a cohesive process flow that can be used for workflow management and business process redesign. When combined with technology, application and information architectures, a business architecture can provide a precise picture of how IT is integrated with business operations. Transaction processing is at the heart of business operations and its business architecture while technology, application and information architectures specify the IT vehicles that provide support to these business processes. Figure 1 presents these architectures and the enhancements needed to support BI.

Architecture Standard Contents Enhanced with BI
Business Architecture Business processes, workflow, business unit responsibility and location are the essential elements; additional components include process owner, work product produced, and job/role Include metrics for measuring process effectiveness, quality of process work products and productivity
Technology Architecture Hardware and system software components that connect business processes and provide the technical infrastructure for the company Include information delivery mechanisms common to BI such as wireless notification, use of PDAs, and so forth
Application Architecture Application systems and data stores used in the business with a focus on interfaces and transaction flows; also includes object management and reusable software and data components Include system of record identification for critical business data such as customer accounts, products, business organization, finances and so forth
Information Architecture Traditionally, the data foundation for business activities as represented in an enterprise data model; with the advent of the Internet, it has also come to mean the design of the user experience (usually through Web site or portal design) in accessing needed data and information Include meta data identification and management as critical components of understanding, managing and controlling business information
Information Delivery Architecture This architecture focuses on critical management data and information such as KPIs, trends and so forth as they move through the business; this includes the specification of the time delay (t) from capture to delivery, the data warehouse or mart where it gets deployed, the data refresh requirements for the data warehouse or marts, the data transport and analytic software and so forth

Include KPIs, performance measures, delivery requirements, timelines and presentation specifications

If system of record identification is not part of the application architecture and meta data identification and management are not part of the information architecture, include them here

Figure 1: Enhanced IT Architectures for Success with BI

Business intelligence focuses on providing managers and executives with information and metrics that provide insight into business operations, assess operational performance and help them make informed decisions. These are critical business activities that do not fit very well into a business, information or application architecture. A new architecture is needed to describe the flow of essential, non-transactional business data to decision-makers; I call this the information delivery architecture.

Information delivery is a critical component of today's decision-making environment. The purpose of the information delivery architecture is to identify the critical information that management and executives need to understand the state of the business, identify problems and make effective decisions. The information delivery architecture makes several important information delivery issues visible:

  • KPIs: The key performance indicators (KPIs) and performance metrics used by management to monitor business operations; this identifies the key data which is used to run the organization.
  • Timeliness: The requirements for refreshing data values for KPIs, performance measures and in the data warehouse and associated data marts; this specifies how fresh important management information must be.
  • Mechanism: The method by which information is to be distributed to managers and executives; this documents the mechanisms of choice (OLAP report, PDF file, e-mail, wireless alert, and so forth) for managers and executives.
  • Presentation: The way in which data is presented is important and preferences will vary; for example, some managers often prefer that data be presented in tables or spreadsheets while others prefer graphs, charts and more visual representations.

These are architectural issues because essential information and its delivery is a cornerstone for creating a culture that values information. Information delivery architecture is focused on critical information needs and the usability of delivered information. When combined with technology, application, information and business architectures, a complete picture emerges of how business operations and management are supported by IT.
The CIO can champion BI by leading the effort to provide management and executives with critical business information. The CIO can also "walk the talk" with BI and create a culture that values information within the IT organization. This will demonstrate the power of BI to the rest of the company and create an example that other business units can emulate. My next column will discuss how IT can lead the way with BI.

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