Rethinking Business Intelligence

We’re only here temporary. That’s what my Dad says.

People, products, ideas, institutions, flora and fauna adapt and evolve to changing demands, environments and new circumstances. And, where there’s a new beginning, there’s nearly always an end, as the outdated entity reaches the conclusion of its useful life.

That’s exactly what’s happening to traditional IT-centric Business Intelligence (BI) technology and deployment methodologies, according to a new report by research and advisory firm Forrester Research.

Forrester: 80% of BI requirements should be carried out by business users

The report – The Forrester Wave: Self-Service Business Intelligence Platforms, Q2 2012 – suggested that organizations need to adopt user-friendly BI software, as well as self-service implementation and management strategies, to enable the full breadth of potential organizational decision-makers to benefit from the ability to independently access, understand and act on information gleaned from reporting and analytics.

In fact, report author Boris Evelson suggested that the vast majority of BI requirements and initiatives should be established and carried out by the specific business units – as opposed to the IT department – and users benefiting from new report types and BI applications.

“We maintain that in an ideal BI environment, 80% of all BI requirements should be carried out by the business users themselves,” wrote Evelson.

Successful self-service BI means catering for a diverse range of user types

Evelson noted in the report that successful self-service BI programs relied on selecting technology capable of enabling a breadth of user types – non-technical business users to the tech savvy executive – with the ability to autonomously perform queries or build new reports and even dashboards.

Key components of best-of-breed self-service BI solutions

In a recent blog discussing the outcomes of the report, Evelson said key self-service capabilities included the ability to: Create measures and metrics on-the-fly, promote collaboration for effective decision-making (Collaborative BI), drill anywhere capabilities, a search-like GUI interface, and a metadata layer.

IT involvement remains critical for successful end-user oriented BI

However, Evelson was quick to point out that the IT department still has an integral, but different, role to play in successful self-service implementations, including the establishment and maintenance of infrastructure as well as BI usership, policy and system guidelines. According to Evelson, IT must maintain control over the more complex “mission-critical” aspects of BI maintenance, delivery and development.

“Forrester by no means advocates that firms transfer complex, mission-critical, enterprise-wide BI applications — especially those that carry external exposure or other operational risk — into the hands of non-IT professionals,” wrote Evelson.

“However, anecdotal evidence leads us to believe that with the proper BI application portfolio classification, no more than 20% of all BI applications should fall into this restricted category.”

Driving demand for self-service BI: Shifting BI requirements and need for iterative development

The report noted three major factors driving self-service BI adoption:

  1. Business reporting requirements change too rapidly for even the best prepared IT departments to keep up with demand and avoid the much dreaded BI bottleneck: “Enterprises can expect a life span of at least several years out of enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), human resources (HR), and financial applications, but a BI application can become outdated the day it is rolled out,” wrote Evelson.
  2. Traditional BI development cycles are also unable to accommodate the almost instantaneous and ever-changing demand for information: "The traditional waterfall methodology for the software development life cycle calls for collecting user requirements, transforming them into specifications, and then turning these specifications over to developers," wrote Evelson in the report. "While this approach is often successful for traditional enterprise application implementations, it won’t work for the majority of BI requirements."
  3. BI and IT often have differing, and sometimes competing, views, agendas and priorities regarding BI application functionality and report development: “In the eyes of business executives, managers, and individual contributors, nothing is more important than business requirements,” wrote Evelson. “Furthermore, they want their BI business requirements addressed according to their, not IT’s, schedule so that they can continually address their clients’ needs and avoid falling behind the competition.”