WASHINGTON — If anyone arrived at this year's Gartner Business Intelligence Summit, being held here this week, without a BI strategy, there's a good chance they'll return home with ideas for senior management -- especially after this morning's industry-expert panel session. Consultants from Accenture, Deloitte Consulting, IBM Global Services, and Tata Consultancy Services, took the stage this morning to describe the current state of the BI industry, where it's going, and how the technology is faring in today's economy. The session delivered like-minded views on one particular area -- BI alignment with enterprise strategy. As companies pursue cost-cutting measures, BI, if planned strategically, doesn't have to be -- rather, shouldn't be -- one to get the axe, the panelists agreed.
Panelist member Shari Rogalski, an executive director for Accenture Information Management Services, said that, as a consultant, she's seen an upswing of strategically motivated BI projects. She noted that, despite tighter budgets, technology investments are still occurring, especially when they can be shown to deliver cost reductions. Viewing BI as a strategic investment is helping to keep the market ripe, she told the crowd. "There's an opportunity now to take advantage of funding that doesn't usually come our way in the [BI] space," she said. "What's different is there's interest in the strategic area, which…is great." Rogalski did point out a change in investment patterns: Rather than multiyear, multimillion-dollar programs, organizations are investing in shorter-term solutions that are less expensive. "You can do a lot in this space in the small span of three months and show tangible results," she told attendees.
To that point, Michael J. Schroeck, partner and global business intelligence leader with IBM Global Business Services, added that customers want -- in fact, need -- shorter time-to-value periods. Whereas they are spending more time investigating BI investments, they're now expecting to see results more quickly. "Companies are instilling a lot more discipline, with key milestone checkpoints, to make sure the projects are on time and within budget and delivering the values set out in the business case," Schroeck said. It's also apparent, he said, that organizations are deploying fewer BI initiatives than before: A company that might have once juggled five or six projects is now likely focusing on just two or three. The benefit, he pointed out, is that having fewer projects often leads to greater value.
"Realigning priorities is key," put forth Richard Cohen, principal with Deloitte Consulting's Technology Integration Practice. "You don't have to do everything this year." BI's place on the agenda for chief information officers has been established -- the technology has topped the list among those making investments, four years running in a Gartner survey -- but it's the gap between the priority and the reality that remains an issue. (Gartner even titled this morning's panel, "The Big Discrepancy: The Priority Vs. Reality in Business Intelligence.") Part of that reality is the difficulty users have reported in their attempts to get full value out of their BI initiatives. Cohen said one aspect of the solution involves empowering line-of-business users by giving them access to the right tools.
In a session prior to the panel, Thom King, a data architect for Moody's, compared BI to a glove -- a compelling metaphor for how users relate to solutions: "I want my tool to fit me like a glove," he said, noting that users don't want the glove's "fingers" to come from separate vendors. "I want to be able to put my hand in the glove and do my job," King said. "I don't want to think about the glove; I don't want to learn the glove; I don't want to take classes about the glove."
The industry panel maintained, however, that education is lacking at the top. In fact, before starting any projects, BI advocates should not only explore their internal needs, but also consult maturity models and best practices from external sources. Seek as much help as possible, Rogalski advised, and then, when you're ready, pitch BI projects to senior management by telling them The BI Story. "Too often we don't tell the story," she said. When you do, prepare to make a strong case:
- Develop a "BI Roadshow" that describes the components and highlights the "what-ifs."
- Show BI's context within the company roadmap.
- Show how BI fits the organization's strategy.
- Point to what BI will deliver, and when.
"Now's the perfect time," Rogalski emphasized. "Now is the time for insight. Now's the opportunity to get money and funding."
After all, she said, "All they can do is say 'No.' "
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