Beyond BI at BetterManagement Live

Jim Davis, senior vice president and CMO at SAS Institute, discussed his company's new model and road map for organizations' evaluation of information resources at BetterMangement Live in Las Vegas on Wednesday. SAS's patent-pending Information Evolution Model (IEM) looks at improvements that optimize business returns: the balance between human capital, knowledge processes, infrastructure, and culture and their unique challenges. IEM has five levels: individual, departmental, integrated knowledge, optimizing the bottom line, and expanding the top line.

Level-one organizations are driven by individual "information mavericks," who scrounge around collecting information from various data sources and creating metadata. This can be dangerous, because it opens the company up for inconsistencies, according to Davis. Every organization has these types of people who can help push the rest of the employees toward information gathering, but it is necessary to move beyond that point.

Level two is the traditional definition of BI consisting of some data cleansing and standardizing practices so there is agreement within a department about how to look at a customer. The danger here is when different departments are looking at the same customer in different ways, especially in industries like financial services where the company might be sending multiple product offers to that person at the same time.

At level three, companies are bringing in data from different departments to see what they are doing well and what works. "People say, 'I have an enterprise data warehouse, does that count?' It depends. Do you really have all the data or are people holding out? Politics come into play," Davis said. "It's a tough level but also the tipping point on the way to success."

Level-four companies have data quality processes in place and commitment throughout the organization. Level five is the BI Holy Grail, where companies are making fact-based decisions about new product opportunities and global strategies and have the ability to adopt quickly.

Most companies are stuck between levels two and three. Progress is slow because of the inability to realize that the people, process, and culture are just as important as the infrastructure, according to Davis. People need to be committed to fact-based decision-making programs to continue training employees and enhancing their skill sets. Processes need to be in place to deal with data quality and consistency issues, and to publish metadata out to users to understand what it means to business. Culture is the biggest obstacle. Not only do people have to accept change, but the right leadership needs to be in place to help deal with that change.

So what can companies expect to see as the world moves beyond business intelligence? Foresight through analytics is a future trend Davis sees. This can mean anything from slicing and dicing on the low end to predictive modeling looking at what customers are likely to respond to a particular offer or who might churn on the high end. Dashboards will continue to proliferate, but Davis cautions executives that these popular tools are useless if not backed up by a strong BI platform. "Data needs to tell us not only where we've been, but where we're going."

Real-time decision making will continue to be front of mind, but integration is key to making that happen. BI will be expanded to all levels of employees, but in order to do that organizations need BI experts, Davis said. "The future of BI is putting analysis in the hands of those who need it. Tools are out there, but if we don't have the knowledge, we'll see a lot of failures."

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