For sure, BI analytic apps and dashboards are hotter than a recent Tiger Woods photograph. But in a mad corporate rush to deliver BI and analytic applications to ever-eager business users, CIOs should first determine what are the business processes that will be made more efficient by the BI tools; ensure that the right data will get to the right people using the BI solution; and then select the correct software tools that will ultimately help users make more informed and intelligent decisions.
In other words, now is not the time to blindly throw BI technology to the masses.
Strategy First, Technology Second
Steve Anthony has been working with and implementing BI applications for a long time. He lists former consulting gigs (rolling out a massive BI system for the CDC, for instance) and the packages he's worked with (all the biggies: Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion).
Now Anthony is a CIO with his own shop at Charles River Associates (CRA), a global consulting firm that offers financial and business management assistance to companies and governments. And while he's plenty conversant about BI apps and their features and functionalities, he's also well-versed in discussing the critical steps that should precede all of that other tech stuff that comes at the end of the process.
"BI is an interesting animal," Anthony says. Overall, what's important in any BI endeavor, he says, is: making certain the data is right and believable; determining how employees will use the data to get actionable results; and "ensuring that whatever we do aligns to our common business strategy."
All of that can take some time to figure out. At CRA, for instance, "we spent six months before we even started development" on a new and innovative BI system, Anthony says. He lists several key questions that they asked themselves: What key performance metrics do we need to operate as a company? What are the data sources? What are we trying to achieve? How does all of this align to our strategy? What does this mean to us? Where is the data? And lots more.
"We went through this whole big six months' worth of getting that information together, and once together, then we did this huge data-vetting exercise," he says. Senior management support throughout the entire process was critical.