2007 marked the beginning of a wave of consolidations in the business intelligence/performance management product space and the market witnessed several mergers and acquisitions. In 2008, the consolidation continued and BI product vendors scrambled to demonstrate via roadmaps a consolidated vision and a comprehensive product portfolio addressing all aspects of BI and PM. Amidst the slowing global economy and hurting businesses, 2009 will be the year when organizations will reassess their IT initiatives and identify opportunities to improve and enhance business effectiveness, if they have not begun doing so already. BI will be on top of the agenda because it provides companies with the competitive edge and the insight to make the right corporate decisions. Consequently, BI programs will need to have the mandate to evaluate upgrading or migrating to newer and better ways of providing that business insight, by employing the best tools possible.
Enterprise resource planning systems have been deployed worldwide over the last many years, and this has greatly helped organizations streamline operations and improve business efficiency. Unfortunately, the decision support systems that were imposed on such ERP platforms left a lot to be desired in terms of capabilities and end-user experience. At that time, there were very few third-party BI tools that offered a compelling price or technology integration that led BI teams to look outside the ERP world. With the wave of product consolidations, this old order has changed, and the once popular packaged-BI platform has transformed to a new hybrid model that offers the features of best-of-breed platforms while retaining the robust integration with the underlying ERP, hence combining the best of both worlds.
Organizations with committed BI initiatives will be looking for ways to migrate or upgrade to these newer hybrid BI models with minimal business disruptions and graceful integration with the reference architecture. While it is important to note that there will be no one-size-fits-all solution on how to approach such transformative programs, there are various devices available to move organizations up the value chain. Five winning strategies will help to lay the foundation for a successful and seamless transition, from old to new.
Adopt the Right BI tools
The foremost consequence of the consolidations in the last couple of years has been the fact that the packaged-BI platform is not so packaged any more. On one hand, there were inherent advantages presented by packaged products, and they manifested in the form of close coupling with the operational business suite, preconfigured vertical solutions, lower total cost of ownership, simplicity of deployment, integrated security features and more importantly, shorter implementation cycles. However, such solutions were not without their shortcomings, and architects were constantly challenged by the lack of a sturdy all-encompassing BI platform that would address all subsystems of the BI domain. Topmost on the list of woes were the lack of key features - source agnostic extraction, flexibility, performance, third-party integration, interactive visualization techniques, enterprise reporting, world-class dashboarding, BI 2.0 abilities and many others. The brave new BI world presents tremendous scope to transform these constraints into opportunities and limitations into innovative solutions.
After several years of investment and development of the current BI landscape, making radical changes to it will seem like a complete overhaul and therefore a daunting task for most organizations. This is not always true, and with some careful planning, the Business Intelligence Competency Center can steer the BI programs in the right strategic direction. The key point to remember is that it is not necessary to blindly embrace the BI platform that is offered by the same vendor whose ERP solution is currently driving the operational business process. There could be third-party tools out there from reputed vendors that provide the same or better capabilities. For example, investigate carefully on how the BI presentation layer being recommended by the current vendor integrates with the source systems and whether it offers specific advantages over other third-party tools. Does it use standard application programming interface to generate multidimensional expressions-based queries, or is it differentiated by proprietary interfaces that offer tighter integration resulting in improved performance? Likewise, perform detailed evaluation by asking questions on other features like security authentication, job scheduling, extract, transform and load processes, data quality, MDM and scorecards examine how each feature satisfies business requirements positively and addresses unique problems. Tabulate the results of the detailed evaluation in a scenario based mapping matrix to arrive at a selection of suitable tools for the enterprise BI landscape.
It is important to remember that there will not be a black-and-white solution to the problem, and there is definitely no right or wrong set of tools. Each BI program that has been built over the years is unique and will adopt different ways to ride out this change. While some organizations will go with a one-vendor solution that offers an integrated platform, others will adopt a mix and match of tools to benefit from the best of multiple worlds, hence avoiding single vendor lock-in.
Strategize with Roadmaps
Before embarking on the journey to transform the current BI landscape, it is very important to have a comprehensive roadmap plan, with buy-in from all important stakeholders. The plan must clearly separate the short-, medium- and long-term goals. The first step toward defining a detailed roadmap is to perform a thorough maturity assessment of the current BI landscape, both from technology and business standpoints. This discovery phase will reveal how effectively the current BI platform measures up against business priorities, what the pain points are and what aspects score high in terms of functionality expectations. Similarly, the technical architecture review will reveal other important factors that will be vital in establishing the roadmap.
Using the results of the assessment, a unit breakdown structure covering all impacted artifacts in the data warehousing/BI domain will need to be devised, and each artifact assigned a timebound action plan. As an example, an artifact with heavy customization but low business priority must fall in the long-term bucket. On the other hand, there could be a daily canned report meant to deliver critical month-to-date sales summaries to senior executives but is known to falter on service level agreement requirements. This will be a good candidate for migration in the short-term. A standardized migration or upgrade methodology covering technology and business aspects can be the basis of the transformation.
Interestingly, such transformative exercises do throw up opportunities for rationalizing various layers and subsystems of the DW/BI solution. Sample candidates that could be rationalized include redundant functionalities, obsolete components in the batch, history preservation for an older type-1 dimension, data cleansing before loading into MDM tables and so on. However, do not make this too long of a laundry list, lest the core focus of the initiative is diluted.
Establish a Business Case
As with any strategic investment, it is essential to demonstrate a compelling business case that will support the newly architected roadmap. Executive sponsors and the management will appreciate quantified metrics a lot more than softer benefits, and it will therefore be prudent to lay more stress on the former. The first question that the BICC is likely to field will be with regards to the total cost of ownership and ROI from this initiative. The components that make up these parameters and their individual weight vary significantly from the packaged BI platform to the hybrid BI model. For instance, chances are that the software license costs associated with the hybrid BI model will shoot up significantly as compared to the packaged BI model because of enhanced offerings and niche propositions that are up the value chain. On the other hand, a hybrid scenario model would clearly be more advantageous from a staff cost perspective because there is no need to rely only on niche and expensive skills that are not easily available in the marketplace.
ROI in BI projects is perceived to be a difficult metric to calculate, and several attempts to do so have yielded only limited results. Nonetheless, with the BI paradigm extending beyond traditional enterprise warehousing and reporting, companies have embraced more BI-based closed-loop management processes that facilitate calculation of quantified metrics via cycle time measurements, key performance indicators, time and cost-based goals, etc. These variables directly translate to effort and schedule metrics and can hence be used to arrive at a reasonable ROI or, better still, return on information.
The important thing to remember is that the entire initiative must be spaced out over time and proper due diligence must be done to avoid any type of big-bang approach that will attempt to introduce sweeping changes overnight. The winning strategy should demonstrate equitable ownership expenses that are spread over the cost and time dimensions, taking into account variables like software, hardware, staff and other infrastructure.
Jumpstart with Quick-Wins
For early adoption of any transformation initiative, it is necessary to demonstrate quick wins by way of prototypes, proofs of concept and rapid implementations that have a relatively shorter time-to-market. Long-running projects that span several months tend to generate less excitement or interest amongst stakeholders. For developing POCs, pick a subject area that is critical to the business yet simple to execute. To make it a successful selling proposition, the prototypes must be demonstrated with real-world scenarios and data, and not just mock-ups.
If the existing packaged platform does a decent job of addressing most needs related to basic information management, a complimentary approach can be used where the current tools will not be replaced in the short term. Instead, introduce newer and better ones that will augment and enhance the overall BI solution significantly. Explore functionalities that have low relative penetration in the current ecosystem but make for a strong business case and have always appeared on top of the BI wish list. Typical ones are - Web 2.-based interactive visualization interfaces, performance dashboards and scorecards, specialty appliance-based database management system, in-memory analytics, search-based BI, collaborative BI, data profiling and data quality. Some of these are functionalities that will be easier to implement than others, because they will sit on top of the core data warehouse layer and will not involve breaking existing modules or subsystems. However, graceful fit and continuity will be key areas to look out for, so the new functionality does not stick out like a sore thumb, and the overall flavor of the BI stack is preserved.
For the long-term however, the BI roadmap can be used as a guide to steer the BI initiatives in the strategic direction established. Finally, it is very essential that the opportunities identified for quick wins be driven by business gaps, rather than mere technology demonstrators that end users will not relate to.
Evangelize with Stakeholders
Stakeholder buy-in is not just essential for sponsorship and funding, it is the single most critical and necessary criterion for success. It is very important that all significant decisions having substantial financial and business implications be socialized with management circles, representing corporate groups and departmental leadership. The BICC can play a pivotal role in spearheading this activity by bringing together IT and business leadership to deploy a shared vision. Frequent road shows and training workshops with representation from various business groups will go a long way in ensuring that the initiative does not fizzle out amongst other organizational priorities.
As with any strategic program, it is necessary to keep the primary stakeholders informed about key milestones reached, challenges overcome and successes achieved. A communication plan will ensure that detailed information and timely status is shared with the target audience on a frequent basis using effective means such as newsletters, emails or reports. The communication should be crisp, and it must clearly highlight quantified measurements that have a direct or indirect impact on business outcomes. The metrics that could be called out are typically ones like speed to market, cost of ownership, ad hoc query times, report SLAs and batch cycle time reduction.
Resistance to change is a potential disruptor in many such transformative programs and end users will most likely question the need to replace or upgrade what is not broken. The business teams representing the BICC can play a key role in overcoming the resistance by being role models and championing the need for embracing newer, simpler and better ways of doing business.
While packaged platforms have flexibility and extensibility constraints, there are multiple benefits to be derived out of specific vertical-based solutions, and these need to be exploited fully. Standard source mappings and prebuilt configurable reports make for simplified and speedy deployment. In the future, packaged BI will be best poised to deliver operational BI in the form of embedded analytics that can be invoked directly from the operational suite to make decisions on the fly. This could be the revolution that will empower every user group from power analysts to customer service representatives with the right tools to make the right decisions, and consequently make the BI continuum truly pervasive.
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