As much money as companies pour into enterprise software, you'd think they'd be interested in maximizing the value they get from it. One obvious way of boosting value for money is by taking a strategic approach rather than a project-centric one. You want to look for multiple opportunities to use applications, preferably in ways that touch the entire organization.
Some companies look to centers of excellence to help them identify these strategic opportunities, and more important, execute on them. A while back, I interviewed three folks from Technolab Corp., a consulting, software development and training company, and they told me this was the aim of many of their clients establishing centers of excellence for business intelligence. (Technolab refers to them as "competency centers," but they seem to be talking about the same thing.) Said one of them, Paulo Dominguez:
While BI is taking a more important position in organizations, we're not necessarily seeing that reflected in the hierarchies and positions. BI is not being well represented. Organizations spend a lot of time going through the process of acquiring software. Once they purchase it, the question becomes, "What do we do now?" Having a competency center helps them not only build a strategy, but also to execute on it.
Said his colleague, Desmond Mullarkey:
Whether it's a full-blown competency center or not, I think any organization with a major decision to make about BI needs to have a BI strategy and vision in place before they make those big investments. BI is becoming like ERP. It's touching all areas of the business and becoming mission-critical for many organizations. With the current economy, analysis of profitability and analysis of how to reduce costs are creating an even greater need for BI. If organizations don't have a BI strategy and program in place, they are going to be disappointed again. And maybe this time, the disappointment is going to be costlier.
While companies create centers of excellence for different enterprise applications, doing so is especially important for BI because of organizations' ever-changing BI requirements, Mullarkey told me:
BI is constantly changing. Analytical needs and reporting needs change all the time. And the volumes of data that are available, both internally and externally, are greater all the time. So BI is tough to manage without a centralized, standardized strategy in place. Quite frankly what we've seen is, most companies just do not have those resources in place. Or those responsibilities are spread out, and the roles are not well defined.
The three men also stressed that successful competency centers encompass four dimensions: technology, infrastructure, human capital and processes. To me, this suggests an obvious need for IT organizations and business folks to work closely together on BI, a subject I've covered numerous times. I now have a slightly different take on it, thanks to Wayne Eckerson, director of research at TechTarget and president of BI Leader Consulting. Writing for BeyeNetwork, he suggests companies should create and support two BI teams, one focused on business aspects and the other on technology.
But there's a key problem with these kinds of teams, one I managed to miss and Eckerson says he had missed as well: Volunteers whose participation is only part of their regular duties just can't devote the kind of effort required to make BI a success. Instead, Eckerson says, companies need a business-oriented BI team of tech-savvy business analysts tasked with, among other things, gathering requirements, developing BI roadmaps, managing BI budgets, and overseeing BI and data governance programs. These analysts will work with data architects, project managers, technical architects and help desk staff to help ensure the technology framework can support the business requirements.
If that sounds like a significant investment, it is. But it's one that companies with a strong vision for BI likely won't mind making.