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LESSON - Transitioning from Successful Business Intelligence Projects to Enterprise Business Intelligence

By Timo Elliott, Senior Director, Strategic Marketing, Business Objects

It’s hard to think of an IT initiative that has as much potential to add value to today’s information-rich organizations as enterprise business intelligence (BI). Although individual BI projects typically are very successful, many organizations stumble on their journey from initial project successes to enterprisewide deployments. According to a recent Economist study, fewer than one in 10 executives consider that they receive information when they need it, and fully 56 percent are concerned about making poor choices because of faulty, inaccurate, or incomplete data.

Enterprise BI Success Requires Relearning Some Key Skills

Just as Tiger Woods decided that he needed to relearn his swing in order to take his game to the next level, organizations must reconsider some of the basics of their BI deployments in order to move to enterprise BI. In BI, just as in golf, some of the skills and approaches typically associated with initial individual successes may actually hinder success at the enterprise BI level.

Individual BI projects typically focus on expert users who work with high-value information. This is a great place to start, but it’s easy to overdeliver to a small number of vocal, technical users (generally estimated to be 15 percent of the potential user population), and miss the greater value of a broad deployment to less technically savvy users. If experts are the only people using your BI system, the temptation is to:

  • Fix problems such as data quality in a patchwork, ad hoc way
  • Tolerate poor ease of use and a confusing variety of different systems

Moving from a series of successful BI projects to enterprisewide BI deployments involves changing some of the habits that made the initial projects successful. In particular, organizations must consciously invest in wider, simpler access for the “other 85 percent”—the nonexpert users.

Today’s organizations should look to the success of Web 2.0-inspired initiatives— collaborative, Web-based communities such as Flickr, MySpace, and Facebook. Rather than focusing on advanced functionality, these organizations start out with simple, useful functionality—making it easy to sign up, participate, and collaborate within the community. Only after these organizations establish a community comfortable with the basics do they implement more sophisticated features and applications.

Figure 1. Moving from a seriesof successful BI projects toenterprisewide BI deploymentsinvolves changing some of thehabits that made the initialprojects successful. In particular,organizations must consciouslyinvest in wider, simpler accessfor the “other 85%”—the nonexpertusers.

Implementing an Information Infrastructure

Enterprise BI success requires an approach similar to the easy-to-use Web 2.0 models. After several key successful projects are in place, progressive companies start filling in a broad foundation of information use throughout their organizations with the following elements:

  • A systems approach to data quality and monitoring
  • Simpler data access for a broader range of users (and greater investment in training)
  • An emphasis on collaboration and discussion around data
  • Making information actionable by embedding BI directly into operational systems at the point of decision

This information infrastructure approach puts the right framework in place for a culture of information use and fact-based decision making. It fosters a spiral of increasing numbers of employees accessing, analyzing, and sharing data—and improving operational performance.

Supporting this information infrastructure typically requires organizational and technology changes. Some form of BI competency center is essential, tasked with the optimal use of information across the organization as whole. One key task of the BI competency center is to standardize the BI products used in the organization—favoring easy-to-use, Web-based systems that have the openness, breadth, and integration necessary to support the variety of environments, applications, and profiles that exist throughout the organization.


Enterprise BI projects often fail because the majority of business users have little or no connection with the BI system. Organizations should invest in an information infrastructure that provides simple access to basic information for all users—not just the BI experts—before attempting to implement more complex systems.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Timo Elliott is a global innovation evangelist for SAP. For the last 30 years, he has worked closely with leading-edge organizations around the world on their data and digital transformation initiatives. He has worked in the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and California and currently lives in Paris, France. He has a degree in Econometrics and holds a patent in the area of mobile analytics.

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