5 Risks of a Dated Business Intelligence Solution

When it comes to business intelligence (BI), the struggle is classic: Centralized IT is concerned with data governance, whereas users want freedom to access data quickly. While keeping up with the breakneck pace of the modern business landscape requires on-demand intelligence, IT departments are hesitant to let go of the strong governance structures that legacy BI platforms boast. 

Given these changes, today's CIOs stand at a crossroads. Should they keep investing in legacy BI solutions that have strong governance but slow businesses down, or should they embrace a next-generation BI platform that helps them stay ahead of the curve?

In the past two decades, speed and agility in personal technology have become a standard, not a preference. Enterprise users expect speed and agility from their BI, and they'll get it with or without IT's approval. While alternative paths may look risky, the greatest risk would be to stay shackled to the slow, expensive monolith of legacy BI.

What risks do CIOs face if they decide to stand by their legacy BI platforms?

Business will move forward without them. Across the value chain, speed and agility are paramount. It's no longer the sales and marketing teams that can be dismissed for their short attention spans. Operations planning is impacted by commodity fluctuations; manufacturing bills of material depend on thousands of components with varying lead times; even human resources is examining a younger workforce with high rates of churn. A legacy platform cannot support this pace. The business has to keep running while IT builds data models. So the business finds its own way with shadow analytics and brute force Excel models, which are prone to error. When more time is being spent reconciling reports than running the business, leadership looks to external vendors for department-level solutions. Gone are the days of waiting for technology to catch up with the pace of business. Today's successful enterprises seek out technology that can keep them ahead of the competition.

Data silos will increase—and so will reporting chaos. In the past 10 years, a myriad of desktop discovery tools have entered the market that support analytic capabilities without significant IT involvement. Marketing has one solution; the supply chain has another; sales has yet another—each one divorced from central data. In a short amount of time, a landscape of analytic silos are delivering their own reports, moving farther from the original data source. 

Because business users value speed over accuracy, they have deployed lightweight, decentralized solutions with compelling graphics and dashboards. But a beautifully displayed number that lacks accuracy can do considerable damage. In the best case, arguments ensue over what should be basic inputs; at worst, incorrect numbers are driving major business decisions. Either way, half of a right answer is still wrong. And wrong answers don't propel business decisions forward; they stall them into submission. 

The lack of data integrity will undermine the CIO. CIOs should lead the analytics charge. They understand the central underpinnings of data architecture and can install governance over what will otherwise devolve into department-level data silos. These disparate solutions drive up total cost of ownership with independent evaluation cycles and integration requirements—adding an unwelcome burden to corporate IT and relegating it to a non-strategic role. 

Through growth and acquisition, duplicate data sources arise, with redundant product codes and category overlap. To cope, regions implement stand-alone BI solutions, and metrics have lost consistent meaning. Who will reconcile the output from these reporting solutions when supply chain and sales can't agree on the forecast? When the business spends its time arguing over numbers, it can't move on to strategy and execution. 

Your competition will out-execute you. The world's leading industry analysts are no longer talking about if a shift away from legacy BI will occur, but have labeled the topic "case closed." Gartner, Forrester, and McKinsey unanimously agree that the BI space has fundamentally been redefined, and the traditional approach supported by legacy BI platforms is inadequate. This conclusion isn't a projected trend or road map consideration for the future. It's happening today. 

Forward-thinking CIOs have already embraced the shift in BI, and analysts are merely reporting it. Companies with next-generation BI will out-execute competitors; the risk to a CIO who ignores this shift is that he or she will be left behind.

Your company will throw good money away. The cost to continue maintaining a legacy environment is greater than the cost of making a switch. Legacy companies that audit which users view a report versus which users touch a report are trying to squeeze dollars from a dying market. When contemplating a new license investment, you must focus not just on upfront license and implementation prices, but also time-to-value. 

In business intelligence, the greatest resource drain comes from the building of data stores to corral ever-increasing data complexity and volumes. Next-generation BI flips traditional warehousing on its head by leveraging the logical model to create the physical model, allowing for speed and governance because the physical data reflects the business definition of the data—not vice versa. In many cases, because of subscription pricing, you can replace your legacy BI environment with minimal to no capital expenditure and remain operating-expense neutral.

With next-generation BI platforms, CIOs have the opportunity to drive a data-driven culture. The right platform will abolish the bottleneck of IT reporting and free up resources to focus on leading-edge projects that deliver value, while also empowering users with self-service analytics so they can run the business. By choosing a leading, next-generation BI platform, businesses can stop arguing over numbers and concentrate on strategy and execution.

Brad Peters is the chairman and chief product officer of Birst. He spent the last dozen years building analytics products and solutions. Prior to working at Birst, he helped found and later led the Analytics product line at Siebel Systems, which forms the basis of Oracle's current OBIEE product family. Recognizing the limitations of enterprise analytics offerings and the revolutionary power of cloud technologies, Peters founded Birst in 2005. He started his career as an investment banker for Morgan Stanley in the New York M&A practice. Peters regularly blogs for Forbes.com, where he writes about cloud- and business-software-related issues.

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