• // Business Intelligence
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One Perspective on a BI Challenge: Nobody Cares About the Plumbing

True story: last night, as I headed home, I was all set to write a blog post about our forthcoming research brief on the use of business data for analytics: essentially looking at how business people and IT people view the adoption and application of business analytics very differently. Once home, though, instead of staring at the warm glow of an empty blog page, I was staring at the three inches of water stuck in my bathtub. And my blog plans, literally, went down the drain.  Half an hour later, as I’m standing in the plumbing isle of a major home improvement store in galoshes and overalls, I had to chuckle to myself thinking: this must be how a BI Manager feels sometimes.

In Business Intelligence, the Faucet Gets All the Glory

In the press and among analysts, much of the attention on business intelligence gets paid to the faucet. In other words, how your company’s business data gets analyzed and displayed is constantly changing in new and shiny ways as new versions of the tools designed to present this information are released (much in the same way that new designs for faucets and other plumping fixtures are constantly on display).  But what about the underlying pluming that’s responsible for pushing that information to that front end?

Often the consumers of this data don’t think about (or care about) the infrastructure needed to deliver this information.  Until it breaks.  I recall the following question being posed on an open business intelligence forum recently: “Your company’s Business Intelligence solution just went down…no one can access it. What do you do?”

While numerous really intelligent folks provided well reasoned action plans to resolve the issue, it was Wayne Eckerson’s response that stuck with me “Get out a stopwatch and see how long it takes for your phone to ring. If people start calling within minutes, congratulations! You have built a mission-critical BI/DW environment that people depend on to do their work and perhaps even drive core business processes.”

I suppose it stuck with a lot of the readers, as it was voted the top response. It resonated with people, I think, because for folks who are responsible for keeping the day to day operations of the BI program going are often invisible to the rest of the company.

Note to Business Folks: Get out Some Galoshes for BI Success

Maybe the plumber analogy isn’t the exact fit for business intelligence teams, but having to slog through messy data while new requests keep piling up, I’m sure sometimes it feels as though that’s case.  While business people may not be able to roll up their sleeves to fix a BI “plumbing” issue, they should play an important role in making sure that the plumbing keeps flowing smoothly.

First, business users need to partner with their BI teams in the development of the BI program. In the same way that installing the plumbing in a new home requires one to know how the plumbing will be used, and what connects with what, so too should BI teams have input from their business users for how their BI infrastructure will ultimately be used.

Second, as business users get an appreciation for the complexities of keeping this infrastructure running smoothly, they are able to take more ownership of what gets put into the system. In other words, having your business users invested in data governance and data quality isn’t an easy task, but with a greater appreciation for the clogs to the system that can occur without that sense of ownership, one is more likely to have a BI solution that continues to provide value the organization.

Next Time, More on Business Analytics Research

In case you were wondering, it was an unusually complicated hair clog, and the home improvement store had a number of innovative and effective solutions to solve the problem (just like with business intelligence). They just weren’t as shiny and cool as the stuff in the fixtures aisle (just like with business intelligence). Next week, though, I promise to get more in-depth into our latest research findings.

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