Effective BI Needs Homegrown Blend of Business, IT

Ann All

Yesterday I wrote about using mashups to offer business users the ability to do more business intelligence activities with limited assistance from IT. The idea, as espoused by JackBe CTO John Crupi and other smart people, is for IT to do the technological heavy lifting while leaving most of the data analysis to business users.


But how much analysis are business users comfortable and/or capable of doing on their own? It's an interesting question addressed by Mary Jander on Internet Evolution. As proof it's not easy to define where IT's role begins and ends, Jander presents opinions from BI analyst Seth Grimes and David Silversmith, VP for information technology at FirstBook.org.


Though Grimes says there's no single right answer, he generally believes "IT should get business analysts the tools they need and get out of the way." However, IT should handle hardware and network support, security, backups and "all that essential stuff that end users typically overlook." IT can often add "indispensable" assistance with enterprise-wide analytics, mainstream tasks and production deployments, he says.


Silversmith emphasizes the importance of enlisting business-savvy people with a grasp on the concepts of relational databases and some knowledge of analytical software/reporting tools. But, he says: "The problem is finding these folks." Many companies ask IT staff to familiarize themselves with subject matter knowledge such as sales numbers and financial data rather than training business users on data-analysis methods.


There are possible problems with this approach, of course. Knowledge sharing is tough for many companies, thanks to 20 organizational traits mentioned in a post on the Leveraging Organizational Knowledge site. Among the traits that could hamper BI cross-training and knowledge sharing between IT and business units:

  • Hierarchical top-down structure: The "you should not share knowledge outside your department without your manager's approval" syndrome.
  • Internal politics: The "knowledge is power so I retain it" syndrome.
  • Job description framing: The "no one's paying us to have a wider vision" syndrome.
  • Lack of knowledge-management strategy and sharing initiatives into the company's goals and strategic approach: The "intellectual property is the only Intellectual capital that is worth managing strategically" syndrome.


Another issue touched upon by TDWI Director of Research Wayne Eckerson on his blog is a lack of BI professionals in the pipeline, thanks to the offshoring of entry-level BI jobs. This isn't a problem exclusive to BI. When I interviewed Hackett Group analyst Erik Dorr and colleague Michel Janssen last month, Dorr told me that many traditional IT career paths have been disrupted as lower-level jobs are offshored. He said:

In IT, there was a traditional career path, where you came in as a programmer, became a project manager and then an analyst, and from there some people grew into leadership roles. But now that the lower level of workers is drying up, with much of that work moving offshore, that model has been disrupted. So as an organization, what do you do?

Eckerson refers to an initiative at Columbus, Ohio-based IT services provider Information Control Corp. that combines outreach to local colleges and universities, a college recruitment program and an in-depth training program for new hires. The approach involves creating blended teams of three junior developers, a senior architect and a senior quality assurance analyst. Eckerson's post piqued my interest, and I'll be discussing the ICC program in more detail soon.


All of the commenters on Eckerson's post stress the importance of employing folks who straddle both business and IT to boost the success rates of BI. If companies don't make the commitment to creating this blend of skills, their BI projects will suffer.


Interestingly, as I wrote in September, citing information from Intelligent Enterprise, companies don't appear too concerned about a possible shortage of data analysis professionals. Thirty-four percent of the 534 participants in an InformationWeek/Intelligent Enterprise survey said they "already have skilled analytics professionals on staff." Forty-eight percent said they expect to "train in-house BI experts and power users on analytic tools."

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 27, 2010 9:58 AM Dave Schrader Dave Schrader  says:

Great article, Ann.  As you note, chief among the challenges of successful BI is making quality data more widely available so that decision-makers can make sense of queries more quickly and efficiently.  At Teradata, we've been working for many years to help companies with 'pervasive BI,' which empowers everyone in an organization-at all levels-with analytics and alerts they need to make business decisions.  While an active enterprise data warehouse (EDW) infrastructure is a central building block for BI and data analytics, many companies lag behind exploiting timely delivery of BI in the context of every business activity because the information is only accessible to certain users.

Contextually-relevant analytic insights should be continuously delivered to all enterprise employees so they can optimize costs and revenues (see this recent Teradata Magazine article by my colleagues Dan Graham and Mike Ferguson - http://www.teradata.com/tdmo/Article.aspx?id=11647 ).  To make this vision of right-time business optimization happen, companies must integrate key business and IT initiatives like enterprise data governance, BI, CPM, business process management (BPM) and service-oriented architecture (SOA).  Furthermore, BI should be available on demand through SOA to processes, portals, desktop office suites and applications, as well as within CPM systems.  These are the first steps in providing real corporate agility on an enterprise scale and ultimately driving operational efficiencies as well as better strategy and performance.


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