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Agile Business Intelligence: Leaving the Comfort Zone

To reap the rewards of agile, you'll need to take some risks.

Among the many great presentations at the recent TDWI Executive Summit in Boston, one that stuck with me was the case study by GE Aviation about agile data warehousing and universal access. We were able to hear from both business and IT sides of GE Aviation's agile story: Mohammad Alagha, new product engineering operations leader and Timothy Gieske, leader of the infrastructure business intelligence center of excellence.

The IT side's Gieske was quite frank about the "vulnerability" he felt in stepping out of traditional waterfall development to embrace agile methods. Alagha did not dispute Gieske's vulnerability; it had to work, or else.

Yet, the two together demonstrated that agile had successfully brought about "a paradigm shift in the IT/business engagement model" at GE Aviation, "[requiring] the business team to play a vital role in all phases of development." You could tell that a new kind of trust and respect had developed between Alagha and Gieske that was based on a deeper partnership. Together, they had succeeded in developing "a sustainable solution with BI technology to exceed business requirements and transform existing reporting into actionable intelligence."

As BI, analytics, and data warehousing projects become ever more critical to achieve your business objectives and the sound running of your vital business processes, project work truly demands engagement from both business and IT sides. However, to make the partnership work, both sides have to step out of their comfort zones and try a different way. This involves risk to both sides, but perhaps it is felt most acutely on the IT side. The business side cares less how projects are done -- it just wants high-quality applications and systems that meet requirements. If it can't get them, it may simply look for other solutions.

Agile methods, whether adhered to strictly or more in spirit, can provide a framework and road map for business and IT to improve collaboration. "Managing Agile BI for the Enterprise" is the theme of the TDWI World Conference coming up in San Diego (September 21-26, 2014). Many organizations today are seeking to replace waterfall development with iterative approaches that involve closer, ongoing partnerships between business and IT professionals. Agile approaches have enabled organizations to accelerate the pace of projects, apply shared best practices, consolidate siloed efforts, and continuously improve quality. In San Diego, you will have a chance to learn from the industry's best minds about how to move forward with agile or agile-like projects and overcome obstacles.

I am looking forward to Kyle Forbes' Monday keynote, Building Effective Agile Data Organizations to Achieve Better Business Value and a More Aligned Technology Strategy. Forbes spoke at TDWI's Big Data Analytics Solution Summit earlier this year in Savannah, Georgia. PayPal is a big data innovator, and so as senior manager of the company's data platform, Forbes had a lot to say about meeting big data challenges. In San Diego, we will hear more about how they are accomplishing development goals with agile methods for these big data projects. [Editor's note: read BI This Week's Q&A with Kyle Forbes -- Transforming Your Organization into an Agile Enterprise -- here.]

Agile: Taking Risks to Achieve Rewards

Agile methods aim at closer collaboration between users and IT developers to deliver value incrementally and continuously improve the quality and relevance of BI, analytics, and data warehousing projects. However, it takes some courage to leave traditional waterfall development methods behind. Waterfall cycles, with the project only delivered when it's complete, can seem safer, no matter how long they take. Indeed, the orderly "waterfall" sequence of steps may still be the right approach for highly complex projects where objectives are clear, predetermined, and relatively stable.

BI, analytics, and data warehousing projects aimed at satisfying immediate and dynamic business needs are often just the opposite; users typically have to get their hands on the data before they really know what they want. Agile BI, analytics, and data warehousing technologies are evolving to support users' more dynamic data needs. Now it is time for organizations to revise their project development methods to increase agility.

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