We use cookies and other similar technologies (Cookies) to enhance your experience and to provide you with relevant content and ads. By using our website, you are agreeing to the use of Cookies. You can change your settings at any time. Cookie Policy.

Blog: Wayne Eckerson Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed!

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.

About the author >

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 founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group,a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.

May 2013 Archives

How do you form a business intelligence (BI) team and deliver BI projects when many of the BI skills and resources lie outside corporate headquarters? How do you deliver the full potential of BI when most business units are content to build BI silos and there is no CEO mandate to centralize, consolidate, and validate data assets? That's the quandary of BI and a primary purpose of a BI Competency Center (BICC), also known as a BI Center of Excellence.

Here's a six-step guide for forming a BICC in a large company with a fairly autonomous business units that have varying degrees of BI expertise and resources. This is a grassroots initiative to build a centralized BI service that delivers standardized data and analytical platforms while empowering business units to develop BI capabilities that meet their needs quickly and cost effectively. The steps can easily apply with some modification to the formation of an analytics center of excellence.

The six steps are: 1) Evangelize 2) Coordinate 3) Virtualize 4) Get a Quick Win 5) Prioritize 6) Fund Infrastructure. (For more on forming BICCs read my earlier blog:"Successful BICCs: Separating Fact from Fiction.")

1. Evangelize

The first step in the formation of a BICC is to promote the value of BI in general and the availability of corporate BI resources in particular. The director of BI and his direct reports should meet regularly with business heads to spread the gospel of BI through word of mouth and gain insights into key business issues and opportunities in which BI can play a role. They should invite business people to attend virtual and physical events in which outside experts reinforce the "what" "why" and "how" of BI. (I've personally delivered the BI "pony show" to many senior executive teams, sometimes via a Webcast, and it's always helped gain momentum for the BI program.) This face-to-face promotion builds goodwill necessary to make BI a sticky resource in your organization.

BI directors also need to work with their marketing departments to create a brand and message for their BI initiatives. The messaging should not focus on technical terms, such as BI, but on business value. Then, they need to create a marketing plan to target key business constituencies with continuous messaging through appropriate channels. Use blogs, Web sites, newsletters, Webcasts, Twitter feeds, collaboration tools to spread the message. And remember, we're in the Twitter age where people's attention spans are limited to 140 characters or less. So be clear, concise, and catchy!

2. Coordinate

Once you build visibility for your BI brand, then find all the employees in your organization who perform BI in some shape or fashion. In most cases, these people aren't IT professionals; they're business folks who have a passion for data or just need data to solve a problem. Hopefully, your BI branding initiative will shake most of the BI doers out of the trees. But you can also identify license holders of various BI tools and scan file servers for frequently used Excel and Access databases (i.e. spreadmarts). And hopefully, the team's business contacts can be tapped to fill out a directory of BI professionals.

Once you have a pretty complete list, host an internal "confab"--a meeting of people who use BI tools or the equivalent to build reports and dashboards in each of the business units. Bill the meeting as an opportunity for them to network with other data-driven professionals, share ideas and best practices, and brainstorm ways that they can work together to become more effective and efficient as a group.

3. Virtualize

One major outcome for the confab is to spawn a formal a working group of BI professionals from every department. The group should develop a charter and build on the brainstorming ideas from the confab to create a roadmap of activities and projects to improve the delivery of BI solutions throughout the organization. To start, these groups organize training and information sharing around BI and analysis tools used by various departments. They also help troubleshoot problems, help rollout upgrades, evaluate new tools, and manage the portfolio of reports in their area. Eventually, the group also attacks data governance issues, standardizing on data definitions and rules that can be embedded in various models and catalogs.

The best working groups also brainstorm a set of high-value, cross-functional applications that become part of a BI roadmap. Group members then sell their respective unit heads on the idea of funding the roadmap--or at least a couple of the highest value projects in it. In essence, these virtualized working groups become the "eyes and ears" of the corporate BI program in each department. Instead of trying to circumvent the corporate BI team, which they've done historically, these groups now evangelize and sell a BI roadmap that they put together in conjunction with the corporate BI team, which acts as much as a facilitator as anything else.

4. Get a Quick Win

The next step is to get a quick win by building one of the cross-functional applications. Ideally, the application is strategic enough to deliver significant business value but small enough to minimize risk. The project--or first major increment--should be delivered quickly, usually in three months or less--fast enough so that business leaders start viewing the team in a different light--as a trusted partner who can help them achieve their goals. This BI "SWAT" team should consist of a handful of people--ideally a blend of departmental and corporate BI staff supplemented with contractors, if required. The SWAT team should have permission to "break the rules"--work outside of standard corporate development processes and architectural standards--so it can deliver value fast and earn all-important credibility. At the same time, the team should lay the foundation for an enterprise data service by creating a metadata catalog of facts, dimensions, and hierarchies that can be reused in future projects.

5. Prioritize

If the initial cross-functional project succeeds, it will generate a buzz among business leaders who will begin to vie for BICC resources. (And the promotional work in step one above should amplify the buzz.) This is the right time to establish a formal BICC with an executive steering committee comprised of senior business executives whose purpose is to evaluate and prioritize BI development projects and secure funding. The steering committee should first establish criteria for evaluating the business value of BI projects and then use the criteria to decide which projects get funded and in what order. Depending on demand, the committee can fatten the development pipeline by hiring more BICC staff.

In essence, the steering committee offloads the politics from the BICC so it can focus on building value-added, cross-functional applications and knitting together the company's far-flung BI resources into a highly orchestrated virtual team.

6. Fund Infastructure

The steering committee will also need to evaluate whether and how to fund the BI infrastructure required to develop and operate cross-functional applications. This may involve purchasing and implementing a new analytical database and various tools (BI, ETL and predictive analytics.) It may require kicking off or coordinating with a master data management (MDM) project that standardizes customer, product and other reference data across the organization.

The steering committee may also want to restructure the corporate BI team so that it is more business- oriented than IT-oriented. To do this, they might create a business-oriented BI (BOBI) team outside of IT that reports to the CIO or a product head. This BOBI team develops the BI strategy and roadmap, facilitates BI governance committees, governs data, gathers requirements, and helps build cross-functional applications.

The steering committee might also formalize dotted line relationships between departmental BI resources and the corporate BI director. Or, better yet, they might reassign departmental subject matter experts to the corporate BI team, bridging the ubiquitous gap between business and IT and turning the BICC into an organization that can effectively partner with every business unit.

Summary. A BICC is an organizational manifestation that top executives recognize that BI is a program, not a project, and requires unique skills, processes, methods and technologies. However, in companies with highly autonomous business units, business executives don't normally recognize the value and benefits of BI and thus aren't inclined to invest in a BICC. In such environments, savvy BI directors must apply grassroots organizing tactics to show the value of BI, marshal its disparate resources, and incrementally build an enterprise BI resource.

Posted May 29, 2013 8:30 AM
Permalink | No Comments |

Embedded BI is a largely invisible part of the BI market, but for some vendors, such as Logi Analytics, Jaspersoft, and Pentaho, it represents a large portion of their annual revenues. And that revenue stream is destined to grow as new cloud and big data applications embed interactive reporting and analysis capabilities.

As I said in my previous blog ("Historical BI Cycles: From Reporting to Analysis and the Future"), the next major wave in BI is embedded BI. That wave won't become mainstream until we move past the current analysis phase sometime in 2015 at the earliest. But in many ways, embedded BI represents the fulfillment of BI's promise, in which it becomes an information service that informs day-to-day operations and automatically triggers decisions and actions that drive the business.

Karl Van den Bergh, vice president of products and alliances at Jaspersoft, has crafted a model of the evolution of embedded BI. (See figure 1.) Since I found it instructive, I thought you might too.

Figure 1. Evolution of Embedded BI (click to enlarge)

Embedded BI.jpg

The first generation of embedded BI is represented by Crystal Reports, which was widely embedded in many software products, including Microsoft Visual Basic, usually with a restricted license for up to five users or a single data source. Crystal Reports was proprietary software that developers embedded into their own solutions using code-specific libraries. In the 1990s, embedded report writers, such as Crystal Reports, generally produced static reports.

The second generation in the 2000s marked the ascendance of open source or low-cost, developer-friendly BI products that support interactive reporting, dashboarding, and OLAP functionality. The leading embeddable BI products are Logi Analytics, Pentaho, Jaspersoft, and Actuate BIRT. Developers use desktop tools to create Web-based BI content which they can then embed into host applications using Web services (e.g. SOAP) or HTML tags, such as iFrame. The Web-enabled BI applications run as separate Web sites and thus share no code or libraries with the host applications they support so there are no mutual dependencies or versioning considerations. They can even run on a separate server to avoid performance issues.

The third generation, which is emerging today, moves beyond the Web to the Cloud. Here, BI tools are available as cloud-based BI services from Cloud platform providers, such as Amazon Web Services, Red Hat OpenShift, Pivotal CloudFoundry, and GoGrid. Developers can rent these cloud-based BI tools by the hour from cloud platform providers instead of licensing and installing the tools from a BI provider's Web site. Developers then use a Web browser (i.e. no desktop tool) to create BI content that can access both structured and unstructured data and support the full range of BI functionality, including data exploration and authoring. Host applications access the BI content via REST interfaces and Javascript and pass through single sign-on controls to support virtualization and multi-tenancy. Jaspersoft is one of the first BI vendors to adopt the characteristics of third generation embedded BI.


Embedded BI has evolved in lockstep with application developers, moving from the desktop to the Web to the cloud. Along the way, BI tools have gotten more powerful and easier to use and embed. They offer application developers the full range of BI functionality--from reports and dashboards to analysis, discovery, and authoring--within an easy-to-use, point-and-click development interface. Moreover, thanks the openness of the Web, BI applications are no longer embedded within the code of a host application, but rather sit adjacent to that application, providing easier deployment and administration and higher degrees of scalability and performance.

Posted May 23, 2013 9:29 AM
Permalink | No Comments |

After a 17-year hibernation, billions of cicadas are expected to emerge from the ground this year in the northeastern U.S. They'll make an unholy racket, mate, and deposit their larvae into the dirt for another 17-year incubation period. Like cicadas, although not as prolific or noisy, the business intelligence (BI) market has its own rhythm and cycle. Understanding that cycle can help you better forecast the future of BI and plot an effective long-term strategy.

Top down versus bottom up.

Every ten years, the BI market shifts from reporting to analysis and back again. These are two very different environments serving two very different types of users with different tools and architectures. Unfortunately, most BI professionals and their organizations have yet to grasp this crucial distinction between what I call "top down" and "bottom up" BI. And even fewer understand how to reconcile these two worlds. (See "A BI Marketer's Guide")

In the top-down world, reports provide casual users with answers to predefined questions and are built by IT professionals using a data warehouse. In the bottom-up world, analysis is conducted by power users who use low-cost tools to extract, integrate, and analyze data to answer unanticipated questions. Although the two worlds differ wildly, they are intrinsically connected: analysis begets reports and reports beget analysis.

Cyclical Evolution.

In the 1980s, BI consisted mainly of reports--static, paper-based, and generic--that the IT department built, printed and delivered to all employees. To provide insight into data held hostage by static reports, BI vendors in the 1990s decided to empower business analysts with desktop query and analysis tools, including ad hoc query and OLAP tools and spreadsheets. Then in 2000, after seeing most of their software gather dust on customer shelves and finally recognizing that business analysts only constitute 10-15% of an employee base, BI vendors began focusing again on reports for casual users. But this time, they made the reports visual and interactive, calling them dashboards and scorecards.

Like clockwork, in 2010 the BI market shifted its focus again, moving from reporting back to analysis. We are now in the decade of the "data scientist", who is kind of a conglomeration of a business analyst, statistician, and data savvy Java programmer. BI vendors now tout their discovery tools and analytical platforms that empower business analysts to explore vast volumes of multi-structured data so they can find valuable insights worth millions to their organizations. If history remains constant, the market for big data and analytics will hold strong through 2020.

The Future of BI

So what comes next? It should be clear by now that by 2020 the BI market will shift its emphasis back to reporting. BI vendors will recognize that most employees are not data scientists and don't aspire to be one of them. BI vendors will rediscover the value of top-down reporting and dashboarding for casual users, but with a twist. Reports and dashboards in 2020 will be embedded into other applications rather than separate applications that users must check to obtain information and insights. In 2020, BI becomes largely invisible, embedded into core run-the-business applications, such as sales, marketing, and finance, which access "BI services" through a Web or cloud interface.

But these embedded reports and dashboards will be quite different from those of the 1980s and even the 2000s. They will be much more interactive, analytical, and open ended. Rather than offering canned views of summary data with constricted drill paths, embedded reports in 2020 and beyond will provide the complete range of BI functionality--from reports and OLAP to discovery and mining to dashboarding and authoring--exposed on demand as users need them or are ready and willing to use them.

The BI OEM Market.

Currently, there is a lot of embedded BI if you know where to look. Most independent software vendors (ISVs) embed third party BI tools so customers can view reports and analyze application data. In the 1990s, most ISVs embedded Crystal Reports. Today, ISVs are launching an avalanche of cloud-based applications and thus seek cloud-friendly BI tools to embed in their software. Vendors such as Jaspersoft, LogiXML, and Pentaho currently dominate the BI OEM market, but other fast-growing BI vendors, such as Tableau, Birst, and QlikView, are investing resources to compete in this expanding market.

But the future of embedded BI extends beyond the ISV and OEM market. By 2020, the majority of organizations will embed BI in their own homegrown mission-critical applications. These embedded BI applications will support real-time insight, automated decision making, and action-oriented workflows. These applications of the future will fuse operations and analytics into a seamless, highly adaptive environment that optimizes business processes and delivers deep business value.

The convergence of operations and analytics is the endgame for BI, as well as ERP for that matter. The computing industry has spent 20 years inserting business functionality into discrete pieces of software and hardware. Now it's time to put them back together again. Embedded BI will be critical to that endeavor.

Posted May 10, 2013 11:08 AM
Permalink | No Comments |