Mark Flaherty (MF): Well, the first lesson is just recognizing how important business intelligence is to giving companies a competitive advantage. So really, just first off, being creative about what problem can business intelligence solve. And let’s be clear, business intelligence is not only for for-profit companies, it's also for nonprofits, and agencies, service industries, where really they just need to be able to operate more efficiently.
So I think some of the most interesting insights to me was one that I call “relevance.” This means taking the current process of defining requirements where usually the IT professionals will ask the business what they need, and instead flip it on its head. It's really studying what our workers are doing, what information do they need to do their job more efficiently, and it’s providing that information to them in a way that’s easy, that’s accessible and integrated into their work process.
Another lesson has to do with the Business-IT partnership, and unfortunately, still in many companies, there is a huge disconnect between these two stakeholders. And when there is not a partnership between the business and IT, you really can't be successful with business intelligence. In that case, it's really just a point solution and something that will only have moderate success.
Do you have any guidelines for organizing BI programs or projects for success? Or how should organizations structure the teams working on BI applications?
MF: The most important thing is because the partnership between business and IT is so important, anything that can be done organizationally to almost force that partnership is good. So if you are deploying business intelligence on an enterprise level approach, then staffing a BI Competency Center jointly by technical professionals as well as business users and business subject matter experts is really important. I think another thing you can do is make sure that that team, that BI Competency Center team, is really staffed by some top talent.
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So obviously, as you mentioned, for a BI program to be successful, there must be a clear understanding between business and IT of what each department needs. But getting this dialogue going isn’t the easiest of tasks. So do you have any insight into how to get the business-IT communication started?
I think a simple thing everyone can do is just periodically have lunch together. Simply talking together even on an informal basis is a very important starting point. As a next step, looking at opportunities where IT can attend regularly scheduled business meetings that most business units have, whether it's monthly or quarterly staff meetings.
And for the IT experts, the BI champions should go sit in on those meetings and understand what are the business pain points, what are their drivers for success and how could BI be deployed to support the business. This is a really good way to start the discussion.
Beyond that, using some agile development techniques is a help. With agile development techniques, instead of the business having to write out a long list of requirements, what happens is the team is jointly staffed by business and IT experts and instead, it's more a prototyping and collaborative development environment. And this way, it's easier for the business to give feedback and say, “Well, that’s not really what I wanted” or “here is how I would change it, and then it would meet my needs.”
So sometimes it's hard to develop BI applications when you don’t really know what’s possible and rapid prototyping is one way for the business to visualize and to give feedback on whether or not the solution is on target.