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Meet the New BI-Enabled IT

Industry luminary Jill Dyché champions a new, more responsive IT -- enabled by BI and analytics

Is the business intelligence (BI) industry is in the midst of unprecedented change. Yes and no, said industry luminary Jill Dyché, who told attendees at TDWI's recent World Conference in Las Vegas that the times are a-changing -- and rapidly, at that -- but not for the reasons they might think. She is vice president of best practices with SAS Institute Inc. and in her lively keynote address, argued that the way in which business buys, manages, and understands IT is changing. She offered several futures for IT -- as broker, as order taker, as an effective custodian, and so on -- that differ radically from its traditional (diminishing) role.

"From a business perspective, the good news is the bad news: [the line of] business is getting its own IT funding. There are studies now that say that in 10 years the [Chief Marketing Officer] is going to have more budget [for IT] than the CIO," said Dyché, citing a recent study from Gartner Inc.

This is the shadow IT trend. A decade or so ago, shadow IT had the character of a skunkworks project: if it existed, it was unrecognized, it wasn't officially funded, and it was (to some extent) unavowable. Shadow IT was rogue, but shadow IT was a sign or portent of things to come. Line-of-business units created shadow IT operations to address the chronic misalignment of enterprise IT with business strategy, business priorities, and (even) day-to-day business operations. The shadow IT of a decade ago was hidden -- it operated in darkness or in shadows.

Fast forward to the present. In many cases, shadow IT is recognized as a legitimate part of business operations: some companies now have formal, avowable shadow IT arms, and as Dyché noted, the line of business is increasingly growing its budget and its purview at the expense of enterprise IT. Thus the new shadow IT: line-of-business liaisons "shadow" -- interact with and keep the pressure on -- their counterparts in IT. The emphasis is on agility: on the timely delivery of projects that are of value to the business. shadow IT, then, is a tool for alignment, collaboration, and responsiveness.

"[T]he agile mentality, real or imagined, has become part of corporate folklore. The companies that can deliver new data or new functionality every three to four months actually set a standard for the rest of IT," said Dyché. "In a lot of cases, analytics and BI programs are ahead of the pack when it comes to some of those fast delivery programs," she continued, stressing: "You're not going to put it [i.e., shadow IT] back in the box, so [the question becomes] how do we adapt and work with it?"

Shadow Insurgency

Ryan Fenner, a data solutions architect with Union Bank N.A., exemplifies the change Dyché talks about. "I came from a shadow IT group in the line-of-business," he explains.

"When we first started, our stated goal was only to do reporting and analytics. Why? Because we told ourselves that we weren't an MIS shop. That lasted only three months, and the reason it lasted only three months is that we couldn't get our hands on data. On any data. Our IT people wouldn't let us have [access to] it, so we actually started building our own data warehouse."

Fenner ultimately moved over from shadow IT to full-fledged IT. He says he was determined to bring a business-oriented perspective to Union Bank's very traditional IT organization.

"When you're in shadow IT, you say that IT [is awful], and once you join them, you say, they['re] still [awful], but I'm going to fix it. The biggest complaint with most IT shops is they're big, they're slow, they're expensive. That was our biggest complaint, too," he avers.

Fast forward to the present, Fenner claims, and Union Bank's IT arm now takes its marching orders from its line-of-business masters. Key to this was the selection of a business-friendly data warehouse development tool -- RED, from WhereScape Inc. -- that Fenner says enables the line of business to have maximum input into BI projects. Even though he's familiar with agile application development and agile project management concepts and methods, Fenner says he was impressed with the close collaboration that WhereScape RED fosters between developers, business subject matter experts, and other contributors.

"It's [a] very fast [process]. It's a model for this kind of collaboration that I wish all [approaches to software] development could emulate. What you'll see [with the WhereScape model] is three or four [business] subject matter experts working with a single WhereScape developer -- and in some cases, they still can't keep up with him," he comments.

BI and Analytics Lead the Way

The case of Fenner and Union Bank helps to underscore Dyché's most inspiring claim: that BI and DW IT practices areas are already closely aligned with business strategy and business culture.

By virtue of BI's explicit marriage of business and IT -- the data warehouse, after all, aggregates business "facts" from uncorrelated operational data -- BI practitioners have been working relatively closely with their IT counterparts (or, occasionally, nemeses) from the get-go. In cases where IT has spurned or resisted collaboration, would-be consumers of BI information were arguably the most successful among IT's traditional "user class" to go out-of-band around it.

The success of insurgent BI powers such as QlikTech Inc. and Tableau Software Corp. is testament to this -- as is the fact that both vendors are attemping to shore up their IT bona fides by addressing issues such as metadata management and governance. The lesson: both business and IT must work together. Even though agile might initially have been a comparatively tough sell in BI and DW, it's now indisputably established.

It's no accident that Dyché interviewed Fenner for her upcoming book, The New IT. His transition from line-of-business liaison to data solutions architect on the IT side seems paradigmatic of the kind of alignment and close collaboration she's talking about. As Fenner himself puts it: "In our company, the business subject matter experts are the ones who understand the data the most. We've also found that when we can get their time, it's extremely valuable to [involve] sysadmins or some of the source system developers. They can actually tell you where the data is or if it's even there. We have a culture [of collaboration] that makes it possible to do this."

Changing a Culture

How will IT's role change with respect to the business? Crossover insurgency a la Ryan Fenner and Union Bank suggests one approach. Dyché likewise mentioned several other possible roles that IT could slot into in its relations with the business. For example, IT could, over time, become a kind of custodian for legacy technologies, and/or take on a role in which it manages the backbone operations that are shared by multiple business units. shadow IT, not its enterprise counterpart, will own IT resources that are core to (or critical for) individual line-of-business units. Other roles include "order-taking" (in which IT is basically a build-to-order partner for the line of business), "innovating" (in which IT is essentially unencumbered by existing system or architectural investments, as with a digital startup), and "brokering." This last role is especially intriguing. "IT is pulling back on building anything and instead is becoming a thinner layer of enabling [technology for the business]," she said.

These roles say little about how IT can become (or can be made to be) more responsive or more accountable to the business. Here, again, Dyché invoked BI and performance management: i.e., the idea of using analytics -- as part of a "culture of measurement" -- to drive this change.

"What's interesting is that between business and IT, the motivations are different," she said, adding that "[different] motivations can be used to entice people to collaborate. If you look at the business, what's interesting about business motivations is that [business people are] are drawn to reasons to participate based on the culture of measurement. If our companies measure people for their successes and penalize them for their failures, business people are very aware of that."

IT people, interestingly enough, are not. "[There are] vastly different priorities with respect to IT: [the] culture of measurement doesn't matter as much," she indicated, and this, too, must change.

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