A common cry from organizations is that they are “drowning in data & starved for information”. When this happens, the first door to knock on is often IT. We’ve got all of this data coming in from our customers, supply chain, marketers etc. Tell me how I can do some big data analytics and uncover insights that will transform my business outcomes please!”
True, there is gold in that there data and the BI Manager must be able to service this need or someone else will.
They also need to be aware of the time bound factor to big data analytics. From a day to day perspective, unless the information is found soon, that same information is not valuable anymore. For example, learning that there is a high risk of Customer A leaving sin’t very useful to know when they’ve already left. From a longer timeframe, waiting one year for a data warehouse solution in order to generate insight is also one year that you’re losing out to your competitors.
So, how can your BI Team improve its time to market and relevance?
There are two directions to consider: the ‘enemy’ within and the ‘enemy’ at the gates.
Within: Self Service BI
Remember typing pools? Probably not but here’s what happened: you hand wrote or dictated a letter or report, sent it to the typing pool, waited a day or so, it came back, you amended it, back and forth, then finally once you were happy, you send it in the mail (snail mail!) to someone.
Then laptops and emails came along, people learned to type, and it became much easier to do it yourself to a point where the whole idea of a typing pool now seems crazy to most people.
Much corporate BI is still like the typing pool. Any business user interested in anything other than the standard output should prepare to wait days (or months) for a new or changed report.
Self Service BI, or ‘Do It Yourself’ can be as simple as an excel spreadsheet or a data discovery BI tool like Qlikview or Spotfire. Place the right tool in the hands of an increasingly data and analysis literate workforce then the centralized IT function to create reports becomes obsolete. Just like the typing pool example people will do it themselves.
Outside: Cloud and ‘as a Service’
Cloud-delivered applications eliminate the need for an organization to host multiple versions of software on its own technical architecture. Testing, upgrades, security patches, infrastructure management are all activities taken away from in-house IT.
The BI application may be provided out of the box and ready integrated with cloud hosted operational solutions. Even setup, installation, and configuration of the BI environment potentially require very little involvement from an IT department. Finally, if even the insight can be acquired as a service then on the face of it why do we need IT?
If a departmental lead can get a more reactive and high quality BI solution more quickly using a self service tool and a cloud based software by going directly to the vendor then they will do just that and IT will be circumvented.
What You Must Do to Evolve – Or Else Die
Support Different Types of Change
If you have competition then get better at what you do. Get faster at implementing change and closer to the business to create value. Key to addressing time to market is to recognise that different types of change required different ‘tracks’ with a different level of governance and process to mitigate risk. Divide up your resources to support these different tracks. For example:
1. Provide an Ad Hoc BI support service to provide immediate support for users to find relevant information, change a report, or learn how to use a tool. Make this team close to the business and empower them to think like the user, from a business value perspective.
2. Create a small change workstream that will make significant but non-intrusive application changes within weeks, an agile sprint. Make the prioritisation and lead time for introduction of such changes agile and flexible.
3. Keep the small changes separate from major transformative initiatives which will inevitably require more control, thought, time, and resource.
There are also some more fundamental architectural landscape and organisational factors that influence time to market. For example, a lean and loosely coupled application architecture de-risks application change and the need for a complex interdependent release cycle & regression testing.
The ability to scale up a development team with specialist skills, which may involve working with a service provider, means that large individual initiatives can be tackled rapidly.
We also find that adopting an Agile approach is extremely well suited to many Information and BI challenges, particularly at the exploitation end close to the user. BI is inherently discovery based, one question leads to another, and people don’t know what they want till they see it. A traditional ‘requirements first’ model is often doomed to failure.
Be a Mediator
In a cloud world, where your internal customers have other options, IT no longer has the monopoly on change. IT should start to think more like a shop that provides and enables a variety of services instead of a ‘Department of No’. It can provide the specialist knowledge and governance to mediate between service providers (Cloud + 3rd party SaaS) and the business.
As a mediator, IT can act as a custodian for the business to ensure that its core assets are secure and protected, for example enforcing data governance and information security, or making sure that multiple services are interoperable.
Acting as a custodian also works the other way. IT can leverage their knowledge of end users to support them with the choice of appropriate service.
Finally, it would be easy for the cost of cloud services to mount, so taking a traditional asset management perspective to cloud or service procurement is another role that IT is well placed to approach.
Provide Value Add Services
Self service BI is fine for most people, but only really works when deep skills are not required. Moving back to the example of the typing pool, yes – the specific typing need is now obsolete, but general high end authoring and publishing functions are still required because it’s a specialist skill that not everyone in your organization has.
The same applies to BI, IT departments need to evolve to provide these specialist skills. A deep understanding of data manipulation, visualization, social media mining, or data science are all cutting edge skills. External service providers are unlikely to understand a company as intimately as those who already work there. The existing BI team is fantastically placed.
On a solution scale this applies too. Large and complicated specialized solutions will remain outside of the capability of a casual BI User or functional department. Larger, more complicated and specialized solutions, which will always remain outside the scope of anyone other than a professional.
Build the foundation
Self service BI is only possible when it is enabled by an underlying data environment that contains accurate, secure, complete, connected, and well described meaningful data. The data is a core organizational asset and it will always be up to the organization to manage it.
The underlying data architecture of an organization describes and manages how data is created in various operational systems, or in outside sources like social media, how it is combined and made available for use. This information challenge is considerable whether it is a traditional enterprise data warehouse or a more modern Business Data Lake.
I believe that the provision of this foundation; ownership of the corporate data asset, and enabling it to be leveraged by the business rests firmly with a centralized IT function.
OK, So Now What?
Today, information to be at the heart of a digital transformation and it is creating unprecedented challenges and opportunities for all CEOs. It requires connecting with the right expertise and skills to help your organization to fully understand how to best leverage the digital opportunity and create real business value. Be it Big Data, Information Management, or the enablement of an advanced analytics service, Capgemini can help your organization get there.
The recognition of this opportunity is what will keep the BI part of IT relevant at the heart of an organization through this fascinating business transformation.