Intelligence, Multiplied

IT managers are increasingly using business intelligence to empower their organisations with real-time information

Business intelligence (BI) is often considered as a white elephant, and IT managers are seen grappling with the challenges of empowering their organisation with BI solutions. Most, however, agree that change in business dynamics has revolutionised information consumption and usability pattern.

There are umpteen reasons for deploying BI solutions. As per an IT Next survey, BI is one of the technologies that is going to make an impact this year and will be a growth driver too.

However, the conservative attitude and approach of the top management is restraining IT managers efforts to spread the intelligence. Despite these challenges, IT managers are not ready to give up finding new ways to try this technology and prove its benefits to their top management.

Need Based
Creating a need is very crucial for any technology to sustain or thrive. BI vendors and IT managers have been trying to create such a need and are working out ways to drive best practices around BI which would make sense at the end of the day.

Akash Sahni, Sales Director, EPM & BI Applications, Oracle India, says, Change in business dynamics has led organisations to leverage BI tools and applications that provide much more than just access to information.

The IT Next survey indicated that 83.3 per cent of the participants found need for strategic planning, spotting market trends and intelligence, and providing information in real time to be the strong reasons for looking at business intelligence solution this year.

KN Swaminathan, GM-IS, TVS Motors, says, There is a mountain of data generated and thanks to the various ERP implementations, information available on the web, social websites, etc, which has contributed to this deluge. I need a solution that can help me manage this intelligently and help me in making a quick summary and convert it into meaningful information to give to my top management in real time. The answer to these, Swaminathan thinks, lies in deploying an appropriate BI solution.

Sanjay Mehta, CEO of MAIA Intelligence, finds the market for BI platforms to be one of the fastest growing software markets despite sluggish economic growth. Organisations continue to turn to BI as a vital tool for smarter, more agile and efficient business and they increase the current usage scenario from just an information delivery mechanism, he says.

As per Gartners annual global CIO survey, BI is ranked number five on the list of the top 10 technology priorities in 2011.

The key driver for BI, says Vinay Hinge, IT Consultant, BI & BA, is the growing need for BI in segments like retail and banking which is core to their operations and is considered as part of their basic solution stack. Changes in the leadership or ownership, new initiatives such as entry into new markets, new product launch, new business or change in business model etc, are driving the adoption of BI, says Hinge.

Why the Constraints?
The challenges are several, say most IT managers. According to the IT Next survey, nearly 50 per cent of the participants find hiccups around the implementation process to be too long. There is lack of business groups involvement and as the data is not structured, this could be reason for not getting the top managements nod for BI.

Its been tough for IT managers to tide over these initial challenges.

TVSs Swaminathan has listed out four challenges confronting his team.
A) To identify the detailed requirements from the users and they being senior level executives, there are many unstated requirements that need to be met.
B) There are a myriad of BI vendors who make tall claims about various solutions capability. It is an effort steering through all solutions and sieving out the appropriate one.
C) The technical challenge, which involves the process of mapping the source and target for the data, which is a huge task in itself.
d) Sustenance is the fourth challenge, which is a purely market related change.

According to MAIAs Mehta, the primary business challenge for IT heads is in deploying BI, as they are not convinced with the idea of investing into technology in cash crunch times.

Getting the right people involved in a project, particularly strong leadership from the top, is key to success of any IT project and another spin on this point could be the importance of setting the right expectations and communicating well to avoid disappointment by the business users, points Mehta.
Mehta reiterates that change (process) management could be another challenge IT heads face while deploying BI. Many companies have formed, over time, as islands of information with many "versions of the truth". BI project seeks to find authoritative sources of data that define limited, concrete dimensional definitions of the business and use those to perform reporting. Getting multiple departments on the same page when defining what needs to be reported (i.e. what is a "customer", what is a "product", etc) can be a daunting task. Strong change management, either controlled from the technical and/or business side (preferred) is challenging.

Despite the challenges, hope is not lost. IT managers are convinced about the business benefits that BI offers and the values it adds to the business.

Playing Safe with BI
IT managers are making use of many innovations in the field of BI.

Rajasekar Nonburaj, Head, BI professionals Group, opines that the best innovation is the mobile BI where IT has the ability to view real-time data and features like dashboard and drill down.

However, Nonburaj says, Before deploying BI, the IT managers need to make sure that they have the perfect data available, so that it is easy to do analysis and reporting with it. Analysis of the existing architecture has to be done before deploying BI solutions

Nonburaj recommends deploying a perfect fit BI tool rather than going for a word of mouth recommended one and says you must ask for a POC from the vendor, get it validated with the present environment and do the analysis.

As a best practice Oracles Sahni points By consolidating on common BI technology standards for the enterprise, organisations can reduce costs associated with training, system maintenance, redundant software licence and maintenance agreements, hardware redundancy, and other variables that impact TCO.

At the same time, business rules, metrics and definitions on user access privileges can be centralised to provide information that is more accurate, consistent, and secure, he adds.

Most organisations initially start by focussing on how to make enterprise reporting and analysis more efficient by compressing the time and expense of delivering critical information. Greater value comes when BI is applied to make the organisation more effective through better business processes and greater alignment with business goals and plans, says Sahni.

Swaminathan has been using BI and analytics both for improving operational performance and for strategy execution. As said, operational performance is tracked through plan versus actual, improvement over previous year and alerts for exceptions.

Strategically, we have been using BI for benchmarking with competition and identifying patterns and trends in our data which we can leverage upon to deliver better products to our customers, adds Swaminathan.

Hinge recommends, To get off the ground, you may not need big investments on day one. MS SQL has features such as SQL Reporting Services and SQL Analytical Services, which you can start using without buying separate licences (if you already have MS SQL). Even Big Data tools such Hadoop are free as an open source offering. Instead, if you have a budget, use it on services such as consulting and training, he adds.

Common Mistakes in BI
* Going Big Bang: You may underestimate challenges. Its always better to go for limited scope pilot and then scale it up
* Expecting clean data: There is nothing like a clean data. So make sure that the project / deployment should work with less than perfect data
* Competing with Excel: Many warriors have fallen flat trying to kill excel. Try to make excel an important part of your BI landscape rather than competing against it
* Inability to find takers: Without the champions and early adopters, BI projects cannot be sustained
* Do not go by pre-sales promises of vendors: Instead experiment with the tools and your own data. Understand the infrastructure requirements properly. Just going by size of data, may not be enough
* Change management: BI projects succeed where the organisation has data culture. If your organisation does not have, first focus on the same.

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