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December 26, 2012

Laying the Foundation: Building Blocks of a BI Strategy

By Stefanie Hoffman

Before constructing a building, any architect needs blueprints – the master framework for any and all subsequent plans and contingencies going forward. The same applies when adopting business intelligence solutions. It’s imperative users create and implement a BI strategy that outlines their overall vision, mission and reason behind its adoption.

The adage “You can’t measure what you can’t see” applies here. End users should know what they’re measuring to determine noticeable gains that will set the stage for improvements. This will establish whether adopting BI is worth the investment.

There are as almost as many BI strategies as there are organizations, but all must incorporate a few common components:

Assess What You Have: According to CIO Magazine, one of the first steps in implementing a BI strategy is to assess and understand your situation — and that means everything, including processes, organizational structures and data that will be used in current BI implementations.

Agree On Common Definitions: Users need common definitions. Determine what BI is and what it isn’t, according to Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson. “Is it just reporting, analytics and dashboards? Or does it involve ETL, DW, portal, MDM, etc., as well?” he suggests. If it’s the former, users need to define overlaps, integrations and dependencies. The latter is different subject: “You then really do need to read a few thick books.”

Understand Your Users: Laying the groundwork for assessment includes understanding what the users need and why they need it. According to CIO, there are three main types of users: strategic, tactical and operational. Strategic users make weighty decisions with long-term financial ramifications for the organization; tactical users make many decisions per week, relying on aggregate and detail-level information; and operational users require copious amounts of data to execute day-to-day operations. Understanding your user base will help determine the type of data needed and how often it will be used, which will guide future BI decision-making.

Consider Critical BI Components: Some crucial components of BI to consider include data integration, data modeling, analytics, centralized metrics management, reports and dashboards, portals and collaboration. Users need to define all layers of the BI stack and delineate how these components are assimilated and play in the BI architecture.

Start Small: Users need to take baby steps in the implementation phase. Often this entails a proof-of-concept phase to identify and troubleshoot glaring problems. Choose key performance indicators and build a few reports, then build out from there.

When implementing a BI strategy, Forrester’s Evelson recommends choosing “low-hanging fruit” with high-value, simple and easily actionable data out the gate to pave the way for more sophisticated and complex BI endeavors.

If you need help creating your BI blueprints, keep an eye on the IBM Cognos TechTalk Intelligence Center. It’s as dynamic as the data, applications and processes it serves to advocate. We encourage you to check it out today by clicking here.

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