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March 6, 2014



NEW TDWI's Best of Business Intelligence Volume 11:
The Very Best of TDWI's BI Articles, Research, and Newsletters

NEW TDWI Checklist Report
Seven Considerations for Navigating Big Data Cloud Services


Business Intelligence
Requires Middle Ground
Between Business and IT

TDWI Flashpoint Insight
BI Experts’ Perspective:
Aligning Business Strategy
with BI Capabilities

TDWI Research Snapshot
Problems and Opportunities
for Big Data Management

Flashpoint Rx
Mistake: Focusing Only on
Current Requirements

TDWI Bulletin Board
See what's current in TDWI Education, Events, Webinars,
and Marketplace

Business Intelligence Requires Middle Ground Between Business and IT

Ted Corbett

Topics: Business Intelligence

Big data, self-service, agile BI, and data visualization are hot topics among both IT and business executives. The world is moving fast and businesses need answers faster. However, with more data from more sources (and more tools available to analyze it), CIOs struggle to enforce the rigor required to protect corporate assets in this fast-moving world. Software vendors, meanwhile, present visions of business enablement without slow-moving corporate IT. What is the “right” answer? Successful organizations must find the middle ground to enable advancements while protecting core assets, regardless of the tools and vendors chosen.

Business Challenges
Business leaders face new challenges every day. Overcoming these challenges requires decisions based on facts rather than assumptions and “gut.” The answers to today’s questions require information from a myriad of sources, including core IT systems, self-managed spreadsheets, databases, and third-party data sources. The skills to access these sources are no longer locked in IT; business analysts are becoming more skilled every day. Schools are teaching Excel and Access skills--as well as SQL and core database fundamentals--to new graduates. Although most analysts in an organization do not know SQL or have deep analytical tools, those who do must reach across different data sets, reporting tools, and databases to build robust solutions. These analysts need to be freed from the constraints of desktop tools such as Excel and Access and be empowered by IT and the business to drive the organization forward.

IT Challenges
CIOs have many masters and struggle to keep up with legacy systems maintenance and new projects. With limited and often shrinking budgets, leaders struggle to fit new technologies within broader corporate architectures to ensure security and long-term maintainability. They need the time to plan, integrate, test, and deploy tools to avoid past mistakes. Although slower, the methodical approach of CIOs helps avoid greater organizational risks. MS Excel and Access are great examples of simple business tools that have been overused as workarounds to corporate IT, resulting in unsustainable spreadmarts, desktop databases, and reporting infrastructures. These solutions have resulted in multiple versions of the truth, inconsistent data, and unsupportable assets that become difficult for both business leaders and CIOs to manage.

Challenges of New Vendors
Vendors of new self-service and data visualization software tools have positioned their solutions squarely between rapidly driving business value and old-school methodologies and approaches to protect corporate assets. The best answer for organizations to explore takes the benefits of both advancement and protection to deliver improved value to both the business and technology groups.

Case Study Example
Such challenges are faced by organizations every day. At Swedish Medical Group in Seattle, CFO David Delafield was frustrated by too many meetings where executives debated “the right answer.” Rather than push for a new product or system selection, David asked his finance team to develop a better way to solve this problem. Several sources of data were used to answer business questions, with analysts using Excel spreadsheets, Crystal Reports, SQL Server, and PowerPoint slides to convey answers to business questions.

Swedish brought in a data visualization tool to help tell their leaders the story in a new way. With multiple sources of data, no data warehouse, and no IT support, the finance team embarked on a project to bring all this data together to tell a better story. With better end-user tools, rapid prototyping, and access to a SQL Server database to integrate data, Swedish was able to build a more complete solution directly from the business perspective. One of the keys to success in the project was the direct work completed by the finance team resources. They were not interviewing executives, completing functional specs, building design documents, and handing them off to developers. Instead, they were directly building solutions. This direct approach helped change the business in a few short months.

Finding the Middle Ground
To enable this rapid change, some compromises were required from both a business and technology perspective. The business solution was developed iteratively using static sets of data updated monthly and maintained by the finance team, not IT. The IT group compromised by not being involved from day one with the traditional approaches to designing, developing, and deploying the solution.

In the long run, both teams will need to come together to migrate support and maintenance from a business group into a more rigorous IT function to increase updatability and maintenance. By using standard development tools and best practices, the IT team will be able to quickly expand the solution to work on a greater scale.

As a result of this project, Swedish found a great middle ground. The business was able to transform their operations using their people with a solution that can be easily maintained and supported by IT in the long run. The business moves forward and corporate assets are protected.

Ted Corbett is the founder of Viztric, a business intelligence and data visualization consultancy focused on healthcare. Viztric, based in Seattle, Washington, helps all organizations find the middle ground between business and IT to drive business improvements while delivering powerful business intelligence and data visualization solutions.

Article ImageFlashpoint Insight

BI Experts’ Perspective: Aligning Business Strategy with BI Capabilities
Alicia Acebo, Jim Gallo, Jane Griffin, and Brian Valeyko

We asked our experts to imagine the following scenario:

Until his recent appointment as BI director, Bill Carroll was an analyst in the finance department for his company, where he gained a reputation for being analytical, bright, hardworking, and a good communicator.

As BI director, Bill inherited a three-person staff that runs the warehouse, as well as three analysts who work with users and the business units on applications. Bill’s team does considerable work running queries and developing ad hoc reports. The team is also responsible for the company’s dashboards, but managers have complained that the dashboards don’t link well to their business strategies and they criticized the previous director about this.

Bill has had several meetings with the CFO, who said repeatedly that Bill and his team must be sure that “the business and BI strategies are aligned.” Bill interprets this to mean that his team needs to support the business better in all that it does. This is fine at a high level, but Bill isn’t sure how to translate this directive into action. What, exactly, should he do to make sure that there is alignment?

Learn what our experts recommend: Read this article by downloading the Business Intelligence Journal, Vol. 18, No. 4

Article ImageTDWI Research Snapshot
Highlight of key findings from TDWI's wide variety of research

Problems and Opportunities for Big Data Management
In recent years, TDWI has seen many organizations adopt new vendor platforms and user best practices that enabled them to overcome some of the performance issues with big data that dogged them for years, especially data volume scalability and real-time data processing. With that progress in mind, this report’s survey asked: “Is the management of big data mostly a problem or mostly an opportunity?” (See Figure 2.)

The vast majority consider BDM an opportunity (89%). Conventional wisdom today says that big data enables data exploration and predictive analytics to discover new facts about customers, markets, partners, costs, and operations.

A tiny minority consider BDM a problem (11%). No doubt, big data presents technical challenges due to its size, speed, and diversity. Data volume alone is a showstopper for a few organizations.

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Read the full report: Download Managing Big Data (Q4 2013)

Article ImageFlashpoint Rx
FlashPoint Rx prescribes a "Mistake to Avoid" for business intelligence and data warehousing professionals.

Mistake: Focusing Only on Current Requirements
Mark Madsen

There is a difference between a strategy and a plan. A strategy outlines the goals, priorities, and high-level actions, taking into account the resources available. Executing a strategy may mean building capabilities to support future actions and improve the position of your organization. A plan is focused on a specific course of action, with clear starting and ending points.

Despite this, many enterprises gather requirements and set in place multi-year plans based solely on current needs. As mentioned earlier, strategies evolve as conditions change. Therefore, it’s important to look beyond immediate business programs and their needs. You can’t look at only what is needed today and plan for the future.

Strategists must extrapolate what will be needed once elements of the current strategy are in place--for example, how processes will change as they adapt to analytics-driven automation or new information. Implementing a data strategy is a process that goes beyond a single big effort based on what is desired this year. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been.”

Read the full issue: Download Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Creating Your Data Strategy (Q4 2013)

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