The Coming of BI Competency Centers

Corporate BI is becoming increasingly important due to regulations, competition, and customer demands, according to Ted Friedman and Howard Dresner, Gartner analysts who addressed and audience at the annual Gartner Business Intelligence Summit in Chicago yesterday. Many organizations, however, are still largely in the early stages of BI deployment, and many have a long way to go before achieving true business intelligence success. BI technologies have advanced quite a bit in the past five years, but corporate processes and culture, Friedman and Dresner say, still lag in most organizations. "To be successful, organizations should focus on culture and processes," Friedman says. "Information should not be treated as a political instrument, but as a resource, much like raw materials, capital, and labor." Part of that culture and process is getting timely information to people in the organization who can use it. Organizations achieve "business information democracy" when they have fully absorbed business information into their every day work, and when all users have the insight to carry out their respective roles, according to Friedman and Dresner. Rather than approach BI like a democracy, however, some approach it like a monarchy--a person at the top gets all the information and doesn't share any of it. Others approach business intelligence like communism--everybody gets the information, but it isn't very meaningful and it gets to everyone very, very late, according to Friedman. Business intelligence also gets hung up in an organization, Friedman says, because the BI "competency center" is treated as a department, with everyone reporting up to the CEO or CIO--bottlenecks are inherent. Therefore, virtual and distributed BI competency centers are becoming more prevalent. In a virtual BI competency center, business intelligence flows up through the organization to people in separate departments (e.g., finance, sales), where a person handles the data in addition to other departmental duties. The drawback of this scenario, according to Friedman, is that the person responsible for the information has conflicting demands (data, other duties) on his time. In a distributed BI competency center, on the other hand, data moves through different divisions of the company and is handled at the corporate level, so there isn't a single person in each department responsible for it, allowing for more flexibility of how data is handled. Another factor hampering BI gathering and usage at many organizations is the plethora of data collection tools, from reporting to queries to OLAP to BI applications. Most organizations may not be able to get by with only a single business intelligence tool, so consolidation of tools is needed at most organizations, Friedman says, which leads to better efficiency, moderate cost savings, and, most important, fewer "versions of the truth. Data is useful," Friedman says. "Well-understood, high-quality, auditable data is priceless." Related articles: Accounting Irregularities Are Linked to Poor Performance Management
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