Working in the technology and consulting industry for my entire career, I have been up close and personally acquainted with the concept of the shoemaker’s children who go unshod. I have seen us preach the 360-degree enterprise view of information to our clients, but not practice these concepts ourselves. I have assisted clients in the implementation of data warehouses and customer relationship management (CRM) applications while working for companies that needed both but had neither. Somehow, I always thought this might just be reflective of the fact that I’ve gravitated to jobs in smaller organizations - companies with tens to hundreds of employees rather than tens of thousands. However, in the past few years I have worked with several large technology companies, and the experience has proved my visions of “technology enlightened” larger companies to be rather optimistic.

It turns out that all of the larger technology organizations I have worked with are rife with opportunities for business intelligence (BI) applications, and all are equally riddled with challenges to implementation similar to those we see regularly within our nontechnology sector clients. This month, I will highlight some of the more unique BI opportunities inherent in large technology or consulting organizations and discuss some of the challenges to implementation that these organizations face. Perhaps we can all take these opportunities to heart and begin to more closely align our own business to what we tell others they should be doing.

BI Opportunities in Large Organizations

The process of selling the work is a good starting place, because this yields some very interesting opportunities for analysis. Consider the work involved in developing client proposals and answering requests for proposals (RFPs), and imagine what it would be like to generate thousands of proposals across myriad industries, each with varying amounts of work involved. Not only would you need a library of intellectual capital that could be reused across proposals, but it could quickly become necessary to track the time, effort and cost of developing proposals and chasing opportunities against win rates and profit margins. Leveraging internal knowledge, providing structured access to reusable components and using analysis to determine which opportunities are likely to be won and profitable versus which should be left on the table are valuable BI capabilities. Additionally, these would require both traditional data sources, such as employee time allocations and engagement profit rates, as well as the unstructured data we read so much about today.

Switching gears to actually planning for and monitoring the work also yields some impactful BI applications. Without a data warehouse, analysis to understand consultant utilization across a very large staff base can become a full-time job. Understanding the impact to revenue when utilization rates decline (and bench rates increase), determining employee characteristics and skills that impact utilization and factoring these into the hiring process and even projecting which consultants will be rolling off projects and will need to be reallocated are just a few of the questions managers struggle to answer. Add to this the ability to monitor the actual in-flight projects both individually and across industry segments (possibly an operational data store application) to determine progress, time allocations and potential budget and resource issues, and the need for a data warehouse becomes immediately apparent. Throw in the traditional CRM and client analysis applications to answer questions (such as “Who are our clients?,” “What work are we doing with them?”and “Which ones are profitable?”), and we have numerous, very beneficial data warehouse projects on the plate.

Benefits aside, implementing a BI program in large technology and consulting organizations can be quite challenging. For starters, most are composed of independent practice managers, partners or managing directors, each concerned primarily with maximizing profit for their business line. Sound familiar? One of my clients likened the effort of establishing a BI program to that of herding cats - primarily due to a partner group with little inclination to veer from autonomy and sharp teeth and claws when crossed.

Second, the focus for most organizations has historically been on external activities: growing the practice, developing the methodologies and finding the consultants. IT expenditure focuses on the infrastructure required to run daily business activities - networks, platforms, financial and accounting applications. Turning the view inward to find funding for an enterprise application such as BI can be difficult at best.

An additional problem that came up repeatedly in my work with large technology organizations is the number of similar business processes that are implemented differently across business lines and practice areas. In many of these organizations, even the seemingly simple calculation behind something like staff utilization can vary widely.

For this month, I will leave you on a positive note. Despite the challenges I have just discussed, there are consulting and technology organizations that have implemented successful BI programs. Next month, I will highlight ways to overcome these challenges and construct shoes for the shoemakers.

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