The Seven Pillars of BI Success

Business intelligence tools may be getting better, but technology is only part of the story. To succeed you must develop measures, set a strategy, manage effectively, ensure executive support, choose the right tools, standardize on a platform and align the BI strategy with business. Here's how to make it happen.


Jim Hill
Data Warehouse Manager,
1-800 Contacts

1-800 Contacts won the 2006 TDWI Best Practices Award. What's behind your success?

We aligned our first project with a call-center-incentive project. The BI team worked closely with call-center managers and used an agile software-development approach. There were some discrepancies between senior executives and call-center managers on how to show the numbers to agents. Executives didn't want to just give performance numbers--they wanted to show agents their numbers versus those of other agents to create a competitive environment to drive higher performance. The first pass was good: We got the data. With the second pass, the senior executives wanted a kind of "horse race" to get creative ideas going and better present information, so the front-end dashboard changed a lot. Now, an agent gets a quick visualization of how they are performing against themselves as well as what percentile they are in versus other agents. The system has helped change agents' behavior.

You worked closely with business users. How has that alignment influenced the BI project?

A close working relationship with the business users has been critical to our BI initiatives. The relationship between the business and IT was not always this good. Some projects were floundering, and initially, the difficulties slowed down the business side's interaction with IT. Business would shout, and IT would do a fire drill and throw something out there. Our new CIO established an agile software-development process with a much-improved governance model. We have much better communication, and business leaders are empowered to set and adjust priorities. The business side sees the data warehouse in a positive light, showing that IT can deliver something that gives business users immediate value and helps them make better decisions. We've also given analysts an OLAP data set that they can explore without IT involvement. This took pressure off IT to deliver individual reports.

What is your next BI initiative?

We are only beginning to leverage information in the marketing space with data mining and customer segmentation. We want to understand the effect of e-mail campaigns and are experimenting with different mining algorithms. Later in the year, we want to identify early or leading indicators and incorporate more monitoring and alerting.

Cindi Howson is the president of ASK and the author of BIScorecard ® product reviews. Write to her at [email protected]

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