What would you like your business intelligence program to look like two years from now? Imagine that your software applications shared common data, and that data was clearly defined and understood by those who managed and used it. Imagine business teams would independently report the same KPI results. And program stakeholders were vocal advocates for the business benefits the program is going after.
Tools would be interactive and visual, not only displaying data in rows and columns. Your users could access this visual information on personal notebooks and phones, as well as their laptops. And when new reporting needs arose, it would be easy to implement new solutions without having to re-write existing ETL or database code. Scaling and expanding data marts and BI solutions would be plug-and-play, with predictable project roll-out schedules.
Components of a Successful Road Map
The ideal future state of your BI Program may differ. Surly you could add to the list. And sure the above description may be a bit idealistic. The question however is this: Do you have specific goals and a plan for how your organization’s Business Intelligence Program will move forward?
Within XTIVIA’s BI / DW practice we not only develop new reporting and analytics capabilities for clients, we also are asked to help develop new or review existing road maps that enable successful long-term BI Programs. We do this by focusing on three equally important dimensions; Practices, People and Technologies.
Over the past few decades the field of Master Data Management (MDM) has matured. Today there is widespread knowledge of MDM practices that include data governance with C-level sponsorship, data stewardship roles defined in job descriptions, and work flow processes that are enabled with full-featured data management software. Updating a BI Road Map includes an assessment of existing MDM processes, and recommendations for process improvement which often utilize improved technologies.
The process of architecting a Data Warehouse, Big Data aside, is well established. Architectures for structuring and managing enterprise data have been tested and refined over decades now. Dimensional models, Star Schema’s and ETL processes have been honed, shared, and automated to the point that many BI tools plug-n-play with dozens of database products, with minimal custom programming required. An evaluation of a BI Programs’ data and technical architecture is a practice that can be used to update a good BI Road Map to one that can be stable over the next three years.
While these “practice” capabilities have matured, they do continue to change. The need for an updated BI Road Map and a review of best practices are required to scale and extend an organizations BI Program.
Some organizations are truly data-driven and the staff knows it. People know which team or individual owns the customer data, or the product data. They use terms like “system of record” and “data steward”. Key business rules are owned as well, such as those that define an organizations profitability. Data is used to report quality, revenue, and performance and each department have their own KPIs. And Job descriptions have evolved to include data management responsibilities.
Advances in BI technologies is having a profound impact on people too. In the best BI Programs business teams can write their own reports and perform their own analysis using trusted enterprise data. Experienced developers can implement a new BI Portal software in days not months. And managers can customize dashboards themselves.
Human factors should not be ignored. Gaps should be addressed with training, and may require role and responsibility changes. These “people” components are critical for a successful, growing BI Program and should be included on a current BI Road Map.
Practices, people and technology clearly go hand-in-hand. They must be considered together and not let one drive the other two. The business model, data volumes, performance needs, number of employees, and existing investments all are deciding factors for choosing BI technology that fits an organization. Today, these choices may include a combination of cloud-based and locally hosted databases and analytics solutions, both of which can find their way onto a BI Road Map.
Technology choices and application also helps to define the culture of an organization. An engineering company has different analytics needs and capabilities than a food services business. Data integration with external partners may differ, as well as the needs for sharing information with customers. No one technology will fit every business need, so technology evaluation and selection is required.
Employee skill sets, attrition risk, and training costs should also be considered in making technology choices. The ability to scale out a new solution quickly depends on your people and sometimes your ability to hire skilled contractors quickly.
Technology is a central part of a BI Road Map. Making sound technology choices can have a profound impact on the cost and scalability of your business intelligence solutions. And choosing technologies that have to be replaced next year can bring both financial and cultural costs to your organization. Careful thought is required to wade through the morass of technical choices available to arrive at a cohesive plan to support your organization’s changing needs.
Does Your BI Road Map Need Updating?
We have found that a sound BI Road Map considers Practices, People, and Technology components. It addresses the critical root issues that contribute to quality BI Programs and establishes a framework to build upon. These include:
- Robust Master Data Management processes and tools, including best practices for data stewardship.
- A Data Architecture that structures your enterprise data to be shared and understood across departments and applications.
- A Data Architecture that can scale to include new subject areas that integrate with your current ones, without costly re-work.
- An access control Security Layer that ensures the right people have access to the right data, and data is protected from miss-use.
- Data Quality tools that alert you to referential integrity problems that could impact the quality of management information.
- A Technology Architecture that can scale with your organizations needs and that provides a predictable total cost of ownership.
- A Server and Storage Architecture that is affordable and scales to enable future growth.
A BI Road Map enables cost-effective data management, data integration and an analytics platform that can scale with your needs for years to come. It provides context for making investment decisions. And it incorporates best practice principles that have proven successful. Is it time to update your BI Road Map?