Centralized Intelligence At Work

Companies are creating business-intelligence competency centers staffed with experts who establish standards and work with employees and vendors

Rick Whiting, Contributor

April 16, 2004

2 Min Read

Standard technology and implementation practices can reduce the cost of some business-intelligence projects by up to 95%, says Chris Amos, reporting solutions manager at British Telecom. BT established a center of excellence around Actuate's reporting software three years ago and is developing business-intelligence systems for the telecommunications company's wholesale, retail, and global services operations.

The creation of competency centers alters how companies deal with business-intelligence vendors. Costs can be lower through volume purchase discounts. Competency centers also allow users within a company to speak with a single voice when it comes to influencing the future directions of a vendor's business-intelligence product, says BT's Amos.

But spurring the use of shared business-intelligence resources throughout a company for strategic purposes is the biggest driver. Aviva established its Information Management Services department to develop a common business-intelligence strategy after the company was created through a series of mergers in 1998 and 2000.

That centralization is critical, as Aviva's goal is to grow by 50% over the next five years, partly through additional acquisitions, Lee says. The center also impacts the company's numerous customer-relationship-management initiatives. "We couldn't get into CRM until we had solid data-management and business-intelligence capabilities," he says.

For Allstate, the centralized business-intelligence operation has led to the elimination of 20,000 paper reports it used to mail to sales representatives and independent agents every month. The company now distributes Web-based reports that arrive four days sooner.

Despite the potential savings, funding can be an issue for creating and running business-intelligence centers of excellence. A Business Objects customer wants to create a business-intelligence competency center, but the plan has stalled because on paper it looks like a new expense, even though it ultimately will allow the customer to cut costs by eliminating duplicated business-intelligence processes, says Timo Elliott, Business Objects' strategic marketing senior director.

Startup costs for a business-intelligence competency center can be $1 million to $2 million, depending on a company's size, Gartner's Dresner says. Pfizer's center was championed by a visionary executive within the finance department who was willing to help fund it, Fleet says. Funding for Allstate's center is included in the chief technology officer's budget, and business-intelligence projects are funded by the business units.

Many believe the payoffs are worth it. General Electric Co.'s energy-products business formed its Business Data-Modeling Center of Excellence last year to improve data-management and business-intelligence practices for GE Energy's 8,000 employees. That has helped the business move beyond simple reporting of financial and supplier data to more advanced forecasting and predictive analysis.

"The data's become more actionable. The visibility of this data to the business has brought millions in savings," says Rich Richardson, manager of business data modeling and delivery, who manages the center. That's a business-intelligence competency center that's more than paid for itself.

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