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Should Business Intelligence Teams Reside on the IT or the Business Side?
17 Feb, 2011 - Lachlan James

“This is the song that doesn’t end.
Yes it goes on and on my friend.
Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,
and they'll continue singing it forever just because…”

And repeat.

Much like this cult childhood song, written by composer Norman Martin in 1988, the question – Should Business Intelligence Teams Reside on the IT or the Business Side of an organization? – seems condemned to endlessness.

Think I’m wrong? Well. That’s kinda my point.

Those in the business analytics and Business Intelligence (BI) space have multiple, often competing, perspectives and experiences regarding the role, placement and function of BI teams.

The discussion – Should BI Teams Reside on the IT or Business Side? – within LinkedIn’s Business Intelligence Professionals group has produced more ebbs and flows than the Amazon river in wet season. More rants and raves have emanated from this thread than from the padded walls of an asylum. More… well you get the idea. It’s been a never-ending stream of debate, conjecture and conversation.

So let’s try and break the deadlock. Or, at least summarize the key points, to abate some of the droning repetition.


Arguments for Business Intelligence teams to reside on the Business side of the enterprise
  • BI teams need to understand and address business problems, and therefore what key metrics the BI tool should measure, to help achieve business goals and support strategic direction.
  • The customers for the BI team are the Business Managers. Hence just IT / tool skills are insufficient to handle BI initiatives.
  • BI addresses business goals. It is a business unit just like finance or strategy.
  • BI has the word ‘business’ in it. Enough said.

Arguments for Business Intelligence teams to reside on the IT side of the enterprise
  • Whilst the BI team needs to understand business processes, BI is too technical to reside anywhere else but within the IT side of an organization.
  • BI is a technical response to a business need. Business sets the requirements and technologists create the useful result.
But despite the difference of opinion within the discussion, a pattern emerged:

Rick Brocht: “I do find it interesting that no response here stated that BI should be an IT only function.”


A mixed bag?

If you had to draw conclusion from the conversation, most parties would agree, to some level, that an ideal BI team should be situated at the intersection of Technical and Business streets on the roadmap to success. (Yeah, that was pretty corny – But I had to).

Scott Eaton: “I think you have to have both. You need to be on the technical side to know how to accomplish the requirements that are presented to you. You need to be on the business side to understand what the clients (internal or external) want/need and what they may be able to live without based on the technology being used to fulfill the requirements.”

Kamran Kamrani: “If you plan to have a successful BI implementation, there MUST be collaboration between IT and Business. Therefore, BI needs both IT and Business to be successful. If you have the team on the Business side, who is going to build it? If you have it on the IT side, god knows what will be built.”


No bag?

Perhaps the dispute can best be settled with IT Systems Engineer Donovan Johnson’s comment, in which he decrees that this prolonged BI bout has no victor or loser.

Donovan Johnson: “The answer is Both – and Neither. BI should, as a few have stated, be its own separate function and have a dedicated business unit with a title like ‘Operational Excellence’ or ‘Strategy Analysis’.

BI professionals should be well versed in business process improvement methodology, business analysis, some general economics [maybe even econometrics], and coding in their application of choice.

They should be a self-contained unit that reports to both Marketing and Operations Management C-suite professionals in order for them to have a sustainable path.

I am watching my fiancée go through the pains of her unit making the transition into this model, and while not always smooth in the beginning, each time they commit to making another change, it takes them a little further down this road. Each time, they see improvement of flow and their effectiveness.”


Are we there yet?

Problem solved. Or have we just started again?

“This is the song that doesn’t end…”

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