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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

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Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is currently director of BI Leadership Research, an education and research service run by TechTarget that provides objective, vendor neutral content to business intelligence (BI) professionals worldwide. Wayne’s consulting company, BI Leader Consulting, provides strategic planning, architectural reviews, internal workshops, and long-term mentoring to both user and vendor organizations. For many years, Wayne served as director of education and research at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) where he oversaw the company’s content and training programs and chaired its BI Executive Summit. He can be reached by email at weckerson@techtarget.com.

There has been a lot written and spoken about Business Intelligence Competency Centers (BICC). I'm not sure much of it has been accurate or helpful.

Most experts define the BICC as an overlay on top of an existing BI team, a hallmark of a wholly mature BI organization. Perhaps I'm naive, but I define a BICC simply as a corporate BI team.

Business Perceptions

Unique Discipline. That actually is a big statement. By forming and funding a BI team, company executives acknowledge that BI is a unique competency that is critical to the business and should be managed by specialists trained in BI concepts and techniques. In other words, there is a recognition that BI is a distinct discipline within IT, and that you can't throw run-of-the-mill IT analysts into a BI project and expect to succeed.

A Program, Not a Project. The formation of a corporate BI team--or BICC--also signifies that executives understand that BI is a program, not an IT project. It's not something you do once and forget about. They recognize that BI requires ongoing care and nurturing because it delivers an ongoing series of applications built on a scalable, extensible data management infrastructure that continuously adapts to changing business needs. It's a journey not a destination.

Business-Driven BI

That being said there are successful BICCs and not so successful ones. The hallmark of a successful BICC is that the business knows that it "owns" the BI function, not IT. It encourages the business to set priorities, define enhancements, and assume accountability for deliverables. In a highly functional BICC, the business gets involved and stays involved; it knows it only reaps what it sows.

So how does a BICC do this? Does it practice dark arts and mind control? The answer is far more mundane. The first and foremost task of every BICC is to recruit business people to participate on governance committees that define the direction, shape, and speed of BI development.

Executive Committee. The Executive Committee consists of business sponsors who provide funding, prioritize development, lead political interference, and help identify and recruit subject matter experts to serve on the BI Working Committee. In the beginning, a BICC may only have one sponsor; but over time, as it builds out applications serving other groups, it will and should acquire other sponsors.

Working Committee. The Working Committee is comprised of Super Users in each department. Super Users are the tech-savvy business people who gravitate to the BI technology when it is introduced and quickly become the go-to guys in each department to obtain information and build ad hoc reports. The Working Committee provides input on the data warehouse data model and semantic layer, and it helps select tools and submits requests for enhancements.

Super User Alliance. Super Users play a critical role in the success of any BICC. They are the eyes and ears of the BICC in each department. Unfortunately, Super Users are often at odds with the BI team because they are the people who build renegade spreadmarts that undermine information consistency. But rather than try to control the behavior of Super Users, successful BICCs actively recruit them to be surrogate members of the BICC. By putting the "fox in the henhouse," the BICC creates a business-driven BI program that stays close to the needs and wants of the business.

Business Recruits. Whenever possible, successful BICC's recruit Super Users and even high-level business executives to serve on the business team. What better way to make the BICC business-driven than by recruiting business people to drive the solutions? Fortunately, there are many business executives and Super Users who are eager to make the transition. Managing the delivery of Information technology offers challenges that appeal to many business professionals.

Best Practices and Standards

Internally, the primary responsibility of a BICC is to establish and document best practices for delivering BI functionality. This ranges from software development methods and project management processes to technical standards for naming database elements and handling ETL errors. Ultimately, these standards--the intellectual property of the BICC--will be critical in disseminating BI capabilities throughout the organization.

Distributed Development. Eventually, a BICC becomes the victim of its own success. It becomes a bottleneck to getting things done. Unless it distributes projects and development work to departments and business units, it will not move quickly enough to meet business requirements. However, it's critical for a BICC to establish standards before it disseminates BI development. Otherwise, you get BI chaos: lots of BI reports and data marts but no single version of the truth. Many organizations never recover from BI chaos.

Provision Data or Deliver Solutions?

Some experts believe BICCs should simply provision data; that is, build the data warehouse, data marts, and semantic layer and let the business departments build their own reports and applications. I believe it's critical for the BICC to also deliver business applications. Otherwise, they risk being viewed as a back-office function and cost-center that is easily outsourced. By partnering with the business to deliver critical business solutions, the BI team improves its business IQ and becomes viewed as a strategic partner, not a cost center.

Departmental Dashboards. To that end, BICCs should build a standard report or dashboard for each department that, if designed right, meets 60% to 80% of the information needs of casual users in that department. These aren't simple reports that a Super User can build alone; they require highly trained BI specialists working alongside Super Users to get right. The other 20% to 40% of business users' information needs can be met by Super Users building ad hoc reports and views on behalf of their colleagues.

Summary

Although some may think a BICC is an overlay on top of a BI team, to me it is the BI team done right. And you don't have to wait until you're a mature BI organization to implement a BICC; if you have formed a BI team, you already have a BICC!

To deliver a successful BICC, all you need to do is: 1) ensure the business continues to own and drive the BI function 2) establish best practices for delivering BI functionality, and 3) work side by side with Super Users to build departmental applications that meet 60-80% of business user requirements.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Please tell me if I have it right or wrong, and share your experiences if they can help others!


Posted February 8, 2011 8:58 AM
Permalink | 2 Comments |

2 Comments

I have been part of several BI-teams and the points you make are crucial ones. In my experience the road to get to a well functioning BICC in the way you describe can be a rocky one with ups and downs. But it is attainable!

The BICC as a corporate BI team is spot on. Here at SAS, our BICC team members are what Cindi Howson has called "bridge" employees. They speak IT but understand the business drivers. When in R&D, I needed revenue data per offering to build a business case. The team applied business rules to the separate, global data sources -- resolving revenue by application versus bundles -- enabling me to deliver data validated by corporate business rules. The data governance aspect is a key component of a successful BICC.

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