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Implementing a Successful Business Intelligence Competency Center

Originally published April 22, 2008

Enterprises see enormous potential value in turning their corporate information into a competitive and strategic asset that drives their business forward. Companies of all sizes are implementing business intelligence (BI) solutions in an effort to get the most out of their data. In fact, according to a recent survey by a leading research firm, business intelligence was the top technology priority for CIOs worldwide in 2007.

Yet many of these organizations receive limited value from their BI implementations because these initiatives are driven at the department level and not developed with a central strategy in mind. As a result, these companies are left with disconnected BI tools, higher operational and maintenance costs, and no resources to manage and support cross-functional BI solutions.

However, a BI implementation can be effective when it features unified and integrated processes that span multiple departments in an enterprise. One way to implement this is by creating a Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC). This business model – often known as a center of excellence – is an approach being utilized by some companies worldwide to complete multiple data integration, reporting, analysis and exploration projects rapidly and cost-effectively.

A BICC refers to a centralized team that consists of both IT employees and business users who work together to address technology, people, processes and organizational culture. This group streamlines business intelligence by integrating data reporting and analysis and by sharing corporate governance, resources and methodologies to develop reusable assets. When implemented correctly, the team forms the backbone of an effective enterprise BI program. In addition, companies can use a BICC to craft a coherent, enterprise-wide BI architecture with no redundancy. A BICC helps companies to bridge the gap between IT and business, and quickly respond to a changing marketplace with the right products and services.

In short, implementing a BICC can help you optimize a BI strategy for your entire organization, accelerate the adoption of new BI solutions at a lower cost, receive higher quality data and improve decision making across the enterprise.

The Keys to a Successful Implementation

So how can you successfully implement an effective BICC in your organization? There are three important phases to consider during implementation:

  • Strategy. Any successful BICC starts with a deep understanding of the role that business intelligence plays within your organization. For example, in a financial services company, BI serves as the key enabler to drive customer orientation. After that role has been defined, the company can work with key stakeholders to develop a vision to build a solid BI infrastructure for all customer-facing employees of the organization. The company must then work to create a BICC model based on different maturity levels. In this scenario, the company begins with the simplest model: sharing best practices to monitor, report and analyze customer orientation and satisfaction. As the company’s strategy evolves, it can start to share data definitions and business rules, IT operations, business processes and BI application development. At the highest maturity level, the company will have a fully centralized model where all processes and procedures are shared across every department.

    Keep in mind, though, that moving from a simple model to a mature model is not a journey that takes place overnight. It requires a clear definition of what business intelligence is based on the business objectives and information requirements of the organization. Establishing a governance and funding model before the BICC begins to grow is essential. However, the payoff can be great – the higher the level of BICC maturity, the more benefits you will realize.

  • Architecture. When creating a BICC, an enterprise generally focuses on technology and people. It is critical that you thoroughly define an architecture in each of these sides before bringing them together. On the technology side, you should strive to develop a coherent architecture with a consistent set of tools and the right degree of integration. Chances are, your organization has already taken some steps toward integration and has some good examples of analytic applications. You can mine existing projects for potential reusable domain assets and build on these assets and approaches as you create the BICC. It is also critical that you clearly define a vision of your BICC architecture as early in the process as possible. For example, should you use existing technology assets or think about developing new ones? Do you have the internal resources and talent, or do you need to consider an outside IT consulting firm?

    On the “people” side of the equation, companies must make sure that everyone is focused on the same goals within the BICC. For example, it is critical that there is a common architecture in place for the measurement of success for the BICC. You also need to understand your company’s processes and behaviors before you can think about making significant changes in these areas.

  • Prioritization. It is advisable to define a model for demand planning and prioritization across the enterprise. This can be done by establishing clear internal business roles, identifying employee strengths and skills, and assigning the right tasks to the right people. You may wish to develop or identify certified training material that can be used to support these efforts. It is also important to get everyone in your organization on board, not just IT employees. All employees – from IT to sales, and finance to human resources – should be a part of defining the processes and metrics that go into creating the BICC.

Once all of these elements are in place, you can proceed by establishing a common methodology, development standards and environment, and supporting tools for the BICC.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, the effectiveness of the BICC is highly dependent on proper planning and implementation. For example, one company, a global player in the high-tech sector, had recently decided to build a BICC to further support its growing presence in the industry. During the creation of the center, the company implemented an enterprise data warehouse.

The company constructed this center, which includes 400 employees, without any vendor support. Unfortunately, the organization lacked the industry insight and BI domain expertise necessary to establish the center successfully. Many of the organization’s BI initiatives were departmental, with redundancies apparent in information repositories and in data integration. Different measures and metrics were used to define processes. Furthermore, the company did not have efficient BI delivery processes in place, so it failed to achieve the business results that it expected during the first year of the center’s existence.

This organization partnered with a BI consulting company, who provided them with resources, software and architecture support, and consulting services to help to streamline all processes within their center of excellence. With this help, the high-tech firm now has a fully integrated BICC. While reducing costs, the company has accelerated overall development of BI applications. In fact, using the new center, the company has been able to reduce its development cycle by 20%.

The keys to a successful BICC are experience, planning and resources, all of which may reside internally or may be best served with an experienced partner. If you are among the organizations interested in setting up a BICC, assess the most efficient path to turning your company information into a strategic asset. As I mentioned earlier, the company previously cited didn’t thoroughly evaluate – or at least it underestimated – what it needed to succeed. To borrow a carpentry mantra: measure twice, cut once.

  • Markus SprengerMarkus Sprenger

    Markus is a BI Global Solutions Director and Avanade's primary business intelligence (BI) expert. He defines and directs the implementation of Avanade's solution strategy relative to Microsoft's BI products and alliances, including the creation of intellectual property (IP) and reusable implementation assets that accelerate customer deployment.

    Markus leads a team of solution architects who work closely with the Microsoft Office Business Applications product group. His team influences the Microsoft product road map through the escalation of technical learnings, challenges and feedback from Avanade customers and the global BI community. Markus joined Avanade in 2005, and has more than 10 years of experience in designing and delivering Microsoft-based BI solutions. Prior to joining Avanade, he owned a business intelligence consulting company in Germany and worked in the management of a BI-focused ISV.

    Editor's note: More financial articles, resources, news and events are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Financial ServicesáChannel, led by Markus Sprenger. Be sure to visit today!

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