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.
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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