Build an insights-driven org

Build An Agile Business Intelligence (BI) Organization

Boris Evelson
Vice President, Principal Analyst
February 5, 2015
The battle of trying to apply traditional waterfall software development life-cycle (SDLC) methodology and project management to BI has already been fought — and largely lost. These approaches and best practices, which apply to most other enterprise applications, work well in some cases, as with very well-defined and stable BI capabilities like tax or regulatory reporting. Mission-critical, enterprise-grade BI apps can also have a reasonably long shelf life of a year or more. But these best practices do not work for the majority (anecdotally, about three-quarters) of BI initiatives, where requirements change much faster than these traditional approaches can support; by the time a traditional BI application development team rolls out what it thought was a well-designed BI application, it's too late. As a result, BI pros need to move beyond earlier-generation BI support organizations to:
 
  • Focus on business outcomes, not just technologies. Earlier-generation BI programs lacked an "outcomes first" mentality. Those programs employed bottom-up approaches that focused on the project management and technology first, leaving clients without the proper outcomes that they needed to manage the business; in other words, they created an insights-to-action gap.  BI pros  should use a top-down approach that defines key performance indicators, metrics, and measures that support the business' goals and objectives. They must resist the temptation to address technology and data needs before the business requirements. 
  • Put business in charge. Anecdotal evidence indicates that there's a direct correlation between business ownership of BI initiatives and success. The stigma associated with BI as a cost center can be eliminated by moving the BI support organization under direct or partial control of the business; 41% (a strong move in the right direction from 27% in 2014) of Forrester clients already do this, indicating that they're thinking outside the box. Additionally, in 2015, BI professionals finally embraced the trend for the first time — 50% of BI support organizations are now staffed mostly with technologists (a slight drop from 55% in 2014), 44% are staffed by a mix of business and technology experts (a healthy increase from 38% in 2014), and only 49% report to the CIO (a stark drop from 67% in 2014).
  • Drop the technology-centric mentality and methodologies. Even the most modern SDLC and project management methodologies that call for heavy business involvement foster technology centricity. While constantly evolving, these methodologies roots are in the 1980s and 1990s, when we lacked the luxury of BI commodities like in-memory data exploration, semantic data access layers, user-friendly graphical user interfaces (UIs), and report-building wizards with hints and prompts. Few BI pros should spend their time designing BI dashboard layouts. Why? All modern BI tools offer drag-and-drop and search-like UIs where any trained business user can pick the appropriate metrics from a menu, arrange them on a dashboard screen, and share the results with colleagues — or the entire enterprise. More modern UIs that include natural-language processing interfaces require even less training for business users to become self-sufficient.
  • Embrace business agility. When business stakeholders can't get what they need in time, they go ahead and build it on their own, using homegrown BI applications based on spreadsheets or desktop database management systems or by procuring departmental or project-based BI capabilities as software-as-a-service. That is why you need a business and application development organization that is agile and flexible enough to support modern BI realities.

These and other best practices will result in business and application development organizations that are flexible enough to support today's BI realities. Otherwise, when business stakeholders can't get what they need in time, they go ahead and build it on their own, using homegrown BI applications based on spreadsheets or desktop database management systems or by procuring departmental or project-based BI capabilities as software-as-a-service. While this may solve a problem in the short term, it moves the organization further away from an enterprise-grade BI strategy.

In our latest Build An Agile BI Organization research report we propose and research various approaches to building an agile BI organization with multiple current state data points such as

  • Whether organizations provide BI and data management suppport by the same or different teams
  • Whether organizations provide BI support for client facing vs non client facing analytical apps by the same or different teams
  • Whether organizations provide BI and advanced / predictive analytics by the same or different teams
  • Whether organizations provide BI and big data analytics by the same or different teams
  • How do organizations staff their BI COE BI CC (business vs. technology professionals, virtual vs. physical organization, and others)
  • 27 typical BI roles, their responsibities, what organization they report to
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