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The Road to Action

  • April 01 2002, 1:00am EST

The words "enterprise wide" seem to strike fear into the hearts of even the most stalwart CIOs these days. Add the words "business intelligence (BI) solution" to that, and you've got a recipe for panic in today's iffy business climate where any information technology (IT) dollars are seemingly distributed by penny-pinching scrooges wearing green eyeshades. However, it's no secret that the number one imperative in IT going forward will be to develop enterprise-wide BI solutions that enable true value-chain integration.

How do you reconcile the two? Follow a road map that includes:

  • The right perspective on the project.
  • A solid foundation for the entire initiative.
  • The right architecture on top of the foundation.
  • An evolutionary, incremental approach to taking the foundation and architecture to an enterprise level.

Gartner analyst Howard Dresner writes that in 2002 and beyond, "The majority of BI will continue to be implemented on an 'as-needed' basis and at a departmental level. This need not be a bad thing if there is a plan, or 'road map,' to guide enterprises ... Once again, with the appropriate amounts of due diligence and a road map, this needn't present insurmountable challenges to enterprises."1

I couldn't agree more. If you do it right, building an enterprise-wide BI solution –­ an extended intelligent enterprise (XIE) –­ is possible. It just takes, as Dresner says, a lot of due diligence and a good plan.

The first step in the plan begins with having the right perspective about the project. Despite fears about spending money in a highly volatile environment, it still takes money to make money. Success is not about how much money you spend; it's about developing new and innovative relationships with customers, suppliers, investors and employees. Your BI project must enable this cross-enterprise and cross-market view in order to deliver lasting value and a sustainable competitive advantage.

The next step ­– the right foundation ­– is to undertake a highly visible pilot project that provides a quick, clear return on investment. It's absolutely critical to the success of the entire project to provide various quick successes up front. The best way to do this is to select a critical-need area, such as revenue assurance, and use best-of-breed integration technologies and BI tools to retrieve the data from the organizational data warehouse and construct a pilot XIE application.

Start by selecting key metrics from each functional area (such as customer care, sales and marketing, product development, etc.) and defining thresholds and criteria for ongoing analysis, monitoring and reporting. Build an executive dashboard to access the information. Dashboards provide the right level of information mix between operations, financial management and performance monitoring. If implemented correctly and quickly, these projects provide swift, obvious return on investment (ROI) and show executive management the value of building a corporate BI architecture that integrates other critical business functions.

The right architecture involves extending the pilot project –­ incrementally –­ to construct a truly integrated intelligent enterprise. Expanding the pilot XIE project simply means using the same tools, along with critical components, to create successes for other functional areas. One essential component of the expanded architecture is the zero-latency operational data store (ODS).

Latencies in an organization consist of time spent turning information about enterprise operations into usable knowledge. Latency of information is deadly. With a zero-latency ODS, information latency is reduced or (almost) eliminated. The ODS makes up-to-the minute information available to key customer contact and analysis people by abstracting channel interfaces into higher-level interaction and seamlessly integrates new channels into the existing XIE architecture. It also allows for uniform marketing and customer interaction across all channels. It is a must for any XIE architecture.

The final step in following any XIE road map is to think incrementally. I agree that undertaking a behemoth ­– an enterprise-wide project –­ doesn't make sense anymore if you try to do everything at one time. However, the key is to implement incrementally. Start small. Be sure the tools you use to build the architecture are scalable and extensible. Be sure that you have buy-in and support from key management players for each step. Finally, make sure that you provide clear ROI for every step in the project.

If you fail to provide visible ROI along the way, executive management will rightfully see no reason to keep pumping money into a losing proposition. Incremental development, with provable ROI, keeps the project alive. The end result will be an enterprise- wide BI solution that will be nimble, flexible and very, very powerful.


1. Dresner, Howard. "Business Intelligence in 2002: A Coming of Age." Gartner. December 14, 2001. p. 2.

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