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Keeping the Business in Business Intelligence

I recently visited several large companies in the UK to talk with them about their Business Intelligence deployments and strategy. During one of the discussions, the topic of where the Business Intelligence group belongs in the organization came up.

At this particular company, the Business Intelligence (BI) group was part of I.T. which is pretty common these days and the entire I.T. department was located in a separate building to the rest of the business. This presented a challenge for the BI group since they spend a large part of their time, quite rightly so, working with the business users.  Being placed in the I.T. department and then in a separate building was neither conducive to fostering strong relationships with the business users nor creating effective BI applications.

I.T. Does Not Build Successful BI Applications Alone

In my more than 20 years of working in the Decision Support and Business Intelligence space, I have never seen a successful BI application designed and built solely by I.T.  Effective Business Intelligence applications are created by the subject matter expert business users and the BI developers closely collaborating and working together.

Yes, administration of the servers, the network, security and the data are all critical components that belong in the domain of I.T. but Business Intelligence is different. BI is partly about reporting on and analyzing large amounts of data to see what happened, what is happening and what could happen and partly about the human factor of interpreting and acting on the results. It is the people managing and working in the business that both understand what BI insights the business needs and make the decisions of what action to take on those insights.

Where Does the BI Group Belong?

The BI group provides the bridge between the business and I.T. but really belongs more in the business than in I.T. I have seen many large organizations struggle with this issue and come up with different ways to solve it. Some, like the company I was visiting, keeps BI completely in I.T. and tries to create a BI Center of Excellence or Steering group that has representation from all the other departments in the company to collaborate and share ideas (Unfortunately this rarely works).

Others have tried creating a completely separate group within the business. This often results in the BI group becoming a report development center for the company and sometimes leads to creating a “shadow”  I.T. group.

Then there is the de-centralized approach where each business unit or department has its own BI group but this model often creates a lot of unnecessary duplication of work and, sometimes, usage of different BI tool suites and is rarely successful.

Of course, the BI vendors are well aware of this issue and tend to make a bee-line to the business to sell their tools since it is far easier than selling to I.T. They actually pretend to be covertly helping the business to bypass I.T.

However, I.T. are not the bad guys and they play an important role in the successful implementation and on-going maintenance of any BI application. Putting it all in the cloud does not solve the problem either. Cloud hosting does not make I.T. disappear; it just moves it to somebody else to take care of who are not even your employees.

The best model I have seen is that of a BI group that reports dotted line to both I.T. (the CIO) and the business (usually CFO or CEO). This gives the group the importance and recognition it needs within the organization as well as executive sponsorship for all its projects. Along with this you would have Data or Business Information Stewards/Analysts within each department who are both subject matter experts on their departments needs as well as power users/experts of the BI tools. They would liaise directly with the BI group.

One final observation I have made is that it seems the companies that benefit the most from BI are also the ones that give it the most importance within their organizations.

So where do you think the BI Group belongs?

About Paul

Paul Grill started his career in Information Technology in the U.K. in 1978, as an Executive Data Processing Trainee for Honeywell. More than thirty years later, he still has a voracious appetite for learning as Information Technology continues to advance at an ever accelerating pace. He was first introduced to the world of Business Intelligence in 1991, in France, when he saw a demonstration of an early version of BusinessObjects on Windows 2.1. He returned to the U.S. to rave about this phenomenal product, but it was many years before BusinessObjects made it into the mainstream. Paul founded InfoSol in 1997, and made Business Intelligence one of the key solutions offered by the company. Today, InfoSol is a leading SAP BusinessObjects solutions partner, known for its expert consulting, education and innovative add-on solutions. Paul is well known within the SAP BusinessObjects community for his extensive knowledge of Business Intelligence, and he has lectured and written many articles on the subject. Paul enjoys writing, running and coaching kids soccer, and is passionate about Ancient Egyptology.

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One comment

  1. BI applications use technology to enhance business decisions. IT makes sense to share the management of a BI application between both the business executives and the IT department. Nothing in a company is wholly independent on its own, so thank you for stressing the importance that business intelligence isn’t only technology or business – but a collaboration of both.