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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.

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.

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
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