Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Crowded BI Bubble

Like CRM and ERP before, BI is the IT bubble growing far greater than any other. We are led to believe it will continue to grow and take the majority stake of any  IT investment for the foreseeable future.

This economic insight has seen the BI market space reshape dramatically over the past 5 years.

We have seen the acquisition of the leading independent BI specialists by the major Global IT vendors to consolidate the space. More recently new innovations in areas such as in-memory computing and SAAS as well as the resurgence of Open Source products devoid of the historical one man band stereotype giving rise to a growth with many new bright and gleaming Business Intelligence software offerings.

As a business owner no matter where you look or who you talk to, the message is clear. The message is telling you that your companies needs to harness its data to empower the business to make timely informed and insightful decisions or else… OK, OK, I hear you!

I would suggest this message has largely been accepted. The question now for the business is where to go? Who to trust? What will be my return on investment? And here lies the problem! Before we look at answering these questions what has been learnt.

Well the biggest lesson learnt is to recognise that many BI project failures are emanate from an incorrect expression or interpretation of requirements at the initial stages. Typically these might include:

  •    Lack of relevance to project objectives
  •    Ambiguity and lack of clarity in the project outline
  •    Conflict between departmental/line of business requirements

So with this knowledge…

Where to go?
Here comes the hard sell you were not expecting!

DSCallards recognises that it is often difficult for organisations to justify the upfront investment necessary to engage in the end-to-end delivery of a BI solution. Coupled with the current economic climate as a result equipped with this understanding and in addition to incorporating PRINCE2 processes, DSCallards has developed its own Project Methodology to ensure the successful delivery of BI projects that meet its clients’ expectations.

DSCallards can provide a means to identify and measure the ‘value’ of implementing a BI solution. This is what we call ‘Value Management’ and as part of our project methodology helps a business to map requirements to targeted outcomes. It can then be used as a reiterative method to help measure the success of not only the initial project implementation but the on-going use of a BI Solution. It can also be used to form the basis of a Business Case to justify a proposed investment. All in all we help a business identify the ROI in achieving its goals… You could almost call it a strategy!

Who to trust?

There are many BI products and delivery partners out there so my advice would be to go out and review the ‘reviews’. Start with the independent trusted sources such as online tech websites, magazines, the independent research organisations. Then make a short list… a short list, no more than 3! It’ll help to discuss and agree what type of solution would best suit your business, on-premise? On-demand? Web Hybrid? Open or closed source? Once you have your contenders ask your network for advice (whether that be social, work, friends or family). If you are responsible for reviewing IT solutions its very unlikely you don’t know someone directly or indirectly that can offer some impartial advice. If not or as the next step, review the vendors websites for awards won and relevant industry case studies.

If the vendor sells through a channel the best partners will usually have a presence on the vendors website. Look at recent PR about awards to see which partner is winning, look at the case studies as many will be delivered through and therefore mention a partner.

As a last resort why not speak with the people who could potentially deliver value back to your business?! Call the vendor, call the partner, ask to talk to the people that deliver the services, are on the helpdesk, the people that will be working with you. Ask yourself are these my type of people? Do they have the experience, processes and professional approach that will fit with your business?

What will be my return on investment? 

Unlike the implementation of ERP and CRM systems it is very difficult to know with BI what you’re going to get out the other end. That said I don’t believe that is an excuse to not try? As I’ve highlighted ROI for implementing a BI strategy can be understood upfront through the process of requirement gathering. However, we must also be aware the ROI is often found after implementation. The unforeseen ROI is my view is the most exciting. A key component of what true BI should deliver is the ability to explore and question or ‘drill through’ your data for this ability is what leads to ‘insight’ and ‘insight’ is what can bring the greatest rewards. 

That ‘insight’ might be identifying your most efficient supplier which has an immediate cost saving for the fulfilment of your service. It might be ‘insight’ shows you who your most profitable clients are and help focus your marketing activities in the right areas, cutting marketing spend, reducing the cost of sale and ultimately increasing revenue. There has been examples of businesses saving or making revenue into the tens of thousands through just one insightful exploration of their data. Are you getting excited?!

So clearly there are wins to be gleaned from implementing BI however these are not always visible from the outset.

Therefore, the initial efforts to identify ROI must apply the lessons learned from past projects failures. Be focused define your businesses requirements across the organisation. Determine what are the reporting issues? Does it take an inordinate amount of time to format a report every week? Do I have to wait for someone else to provide the dataset I want? Do I just put a finger in the air as I know I’m not going to get the information I need for that meeting? Whatever it might be, only through understanding the businesses reporting issues and requirements will you then start to understand the potential ROI. From past projects RIO pre implementation is typically identified through: 

  • Improved operating efficiency
  • Improved accuracy of information
  • Improved audit of data lineage
  • Improved ease of access to information
  • Improved usefulness of information

So whether you are going it alone or are investing in help from a specialist I hope there are some useful points enclosed and by all means feel free to contact DSCallards!

Written by Ben Hedger, Senior Business Development Consultant, DSCallards