Nine Choices on the Road to BI Solution Centers - InformationWeek
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12/1/2008
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Nine Choices on the Road to BI Solution Centers

Forrester Research says BI Solution Centers offer a business-governed, solutions-focused edge over BI competency centers. Here are nine key considerations you'll face when building your BISC.

BI is no longer just about back-office reporting. As BI solutions increasingly permeate the enterprise and span a wide range of applications, analytics-driven organizations recognize BI as a key corporate asset and a do-or-die platform. In today's turbulent and increasingly commoditized economy, enterprises must make better and faster decisions to stay competitive — and often just to keep their heads above water.

As BI grows more pervasive, complex, feature-rich, and mission-critical, it also becomes harder to implement effectively. Many information and knowledge management professionals question whether they architect, implement, and manage their BI initiatives properly. Doing so requires sound BI and performance management best practices — and an awareness of the myriad ways it can all go wrong.

Forrester's ongoing research compiles a litany of worst practices often committed, deliberately or inadvertently, by even the smartest, most experienced information and knowledge management professionals. Common deficiencies in many enterprise BI environments often manifest themselves at the application level, but the root causes of the problems go much deeper. The chief symptoms of suboptimal BI management practices include:

The lack of a single trustworthy view of all relevant information. Many organizations strive for a single unified view of disparate transactional data and commit themselves to the long-range goal of consolidating it all into an all-encompassing enterprise data warehouse (EDW). In practice, though, the goal of an uber-EDW is a moving target. EDW projects are frequently the victims of "scope creep," due to constantly changing requirements, relentless growth in the range of operational-data sources, and stubborn resource bottlenecks within IT. Insufficient focus on data quality and master data management (MDM) only adds to a lack of trust. Even data in a comprehensive EDW may be viewed as untrustworthy or, in a worst case scenario, incorrect. As a result, BI application users resort to old fashioned methods to collect and analyze data such as running their own SQL queries and bringing data into spreadsheets for analysis.

BI applications too complex and confusing to use effectively. Crafting sophisticated BI applications for power users is important, but designing them for casual business users is far trickier. Even the most user-friendly, point-and-click BI applications often require users to slog through a daunting range of user interfaces, features, reports, metrics, dimensions, and hierarchies. Also, BI is just a subset of the surfeit of productivity tools that information workers must juggle just to perform their basic responsibilities. As a result, most BI end users have barely tapped the productivity potential of the tools at their disposal and often run back to IT to help them create new reports, queries, and dashboards.

BI applications too rigid to address even minor changes. Our modern world moves at lightning speed, but BI solutions are often too rigid to keep up with the changes. One simple change to a single source data element can result in a few changes to extract, transform, load (ETL) and data cleansing jobs, which may turn into several data model changes in operational data store (ODS), data warehouse (DW), and data marts; this in turn affects dozens of metrics and measures that could be referenced in hundreds of queries, reports, and dashboards.

As these problems illustrate, the typical BI environment is far from realizing its potential as a strategic business asset. Many organizations have responded by developing BI support centers or BI competency centers, but a BI Solution Center (BISC) offers a more business- and solutions-focused advance on these concepts. This article, which is based on the Forrester Report "Implementing Your Business Intelligence Solutions Center," details nine choices you'll need to make on the road to building an effective BISC.

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