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6/1/2011
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5 Factors In Agile BI

Business decision-makers need data fast. Here's how to deliver.

3. Agile Infrastructure

The standard BI infrastructure goes something like this: Information flows from data sources to the operational data store and data warehouse via extract, transform, and load (ETL) and is provided to customers, in most cases, as reports on a thin-client interface.

The question is, how do we optimize this architecture to fully leverage an agile development approach?

We can't always do much about data sources; the company may not even own all of them. On the other hand, we can do a lot to improve the data integration layer. Vendors such as Composite Software, IBM, and Informatica offer tools to integrate data without physically moving it. Integration happens in a virtual layer; source data is cached in the virtualization server and refreshed as needed by the business or as agreed with the data source owner.

Virtual integration lets business users visualize data much earlier in the development cycle, which helps them further refine requirements. Such an architecture also sustains near-real-time BI more easily than the standard ETL model.

4. The Cloud And Agile BI

When does the cloud make sense for BI and how does it improve agility? Companies without BI programs should look closely at the cloud as a way to jump-start their initia- tives. With cloud services, BI and ETL software can be provisioned as a service. Companies with problematic in-house systems can use the cloud to avoid having to upgrade hardware and software.

Another time the cloud can help is when data sources feeding the data warehouse change. Say a legacy system is replaced by a commercial, off-the-shelf system--all the underlying BI mappings and infrastructure must be redone. When a packaged ERP system is adopted to eliminate a multitude of homegrown siloed apps, there may be BI modules associated with the packaged tool that can be implemented in the cloud. Most companies will take a hybrid approach. Remember, where a system is hosted is less important than how fast and how well users can be served.

5. IT And Agile BI

Agility is driven by the need to serve end users. It's about always being relevant and responsive. To achieve maximum effectiveness, IT must interact with the business it serves and also connect with the business problems. A BI team with high turnover from project to project will find it much harder to leverage lessons learned.

Finally, beware red tape, which is usually imposed by ingrained processes and project management offices. Business and IT executive sponsors must commit fully to agile development. Only then can the need for speed be reflected in the BI infrastructure.

Diagram: How the cloud aids agile BI

Margherita Bruni helped the AARP IT leadership team implement and manage a best-in-class integrated enterprise-wide BI practice and competency center.

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