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The secret to BI success

With all the hype and promise of business intelligence, Gartner said organizations need to establish competency centers to get the most out of their investment.

Take a look at most lists of spending priorities for chief information officers and business intelligence (BI) is at or near the top.

Problem is, while there's plenty of vendors, there's not a whole lot of BI experience out in the marketplace.

"There's a lot of interest, a lot of awareness, but the penetration is really low," said Bill Hostman, a research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "It's really emerging in silos in sales and finance. That's creating a barrier, with different definitions, terms and results."

Important BI competency center tasks:

- Conduct an inventory of existing programs and skills.

- Identify areas of duplication or deficiencies.

- Create a vision and business case.

- Recruit a sponsor with seed funding.

- Define a plan.

- Sell BI as a way to leverage new programs.

- Pilot and market the initiative.

- Expand BI's scope and find more sponsorship.

- Turn BI into a revenue stream.


(source Gartner Inc.)

The result of this piecemeal purchasing of BI will be a large number of tactical deployments that provide limited insight and a limited impact on performance, Hostman warns. Ultimately, IT is blamed and told to fix the problem.

"You need to look at it from a skills approach," Hostman said. "What are the needs across the organization? What skills and tools do you need? You need an analytic architecture with common requirements and a common vocabulary. The answer is a BI competency center."

Establishing a BI competency center to define the vision of a BI initiative, manage the spending and govern the corporate BI platform can prevent these silo problems, Hostman said. The competency center should have control over all of the corporate BI, control over a smaller percentage of the cross-functional BI applications, less control over departmental applications and very little authority over special purpose deployments.

A recent survey from Gartner Inc. found that 20% of organizations have existing competency centers with twice as many planning to establish one in the next 12 months. Those that have been through a large-scale BI implementation found that user training turned out to be the biggest hidden cost, Hostman said.

When allocating resources to a BI implementation, organizations should focus on four key pillars, according to Gartner. The first pillar is user training, Hostman said, including training sessions and communications about the new technology such as newsletters. Organizations also need to focus on an area often overlooked in BI initiatives -- data stewards. For BI to succeed, someone needs to be paying attention to data quality, where it gets dirty, where it decays and who has access to what data. The third pillar of a successful implementation is a focus on the meta data, providing an understanding of where data came from and what effect changing it will have. Finally, an initiative needs to focus on advanced analysis, how to take BI to the next level. Organizations need to understand not only what happened, but why something happened and what might happen in the future, Hostman said,

Craig Morris, team leader of the retail reporting systems with Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc., is trying to start a BI competency center at his organization. An attendee at Gartner's recent Business Intelligence Summit in Chicago, Morris hoped to find some information to bring back to his CIO, who Morris is hoping will support a competency center.

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"There's several groups asking us for reporting and they're always asking us for data," Morris said. "Our first goal is doing an inventory [of BI applications]."

According to Hostman, successful competency centers break down into several reporting structures: virtual, which is IT informally reporting to the CIO, operations, with a more formal group reporting to the chief operating officer or other operational manager; and a distributed corporate structure, which creates corporate templates for rolling out regional BI deployments.

"It needs to have some seed money, something to get it started," Hostman said. "That's where you get your corporate sponsorship. That's a critical piece."

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