Business intelligence 'needs central management'

The key to getting a return on your investment in BI tools is good, central, management, according to Gartner

Companies need to centralise the management of their business intelligence (BI) projects if they want to get the best return out of their investments.

Many companies have allowed multiple BI implementations to spring up across their organisation, according to analyst house Gartner.

Gartner said that while these tools can produce results which are accurate in isolation, they are unlikely to be consistent or relevant across the organisation.

For example the BI tools used in various parts of an organisation might use different definitions (sales versus profit), time periods (months or weeks) or even currencies, making it impossible to compare the data.

Gartner analyst Bill Hostmann warned: "If you don't get it right you will get silos and you won't get the return on investment."

Speaking at the Information Builders Summit user conference in Las Vegas, Hostmann said companies need to build a BI 'competency centre' to cut cost and get the best insight from their data.

According to Gartner research, around one in three companies have created such a centre.

The competency centre defines the BI vision for the organisation, setting standards, building the technology blueprint, managing programmes, developing user skills and controlling funding.

It should not be solely an IT organisation but should also include elements from the business as well, Hostmann said: "The competency centre is going to define the vision for the organisation on what BI is. It is managing a lot of different resources across a lot of different departments."

The BI competency centre is also distinct from the data warehouse team, Hostmann said. "The data warehouse team is not the same as the BI competency centre. The two are distinct but work closely together," he said.

While the data warehouse team focuses on building the data management infrastructure, the BI competency team builds the processes for using information to make better business decisions.

And while the data warehouse team reports to the CIO, the BI competency centre is more likely to report to the CFO or COO — the more higher up the organisation the better: "The altitude of the sponsor is proportionate to the altitude of success," Hostmann said.

Companies should start with an inventory of their BI environment to identify duplication and deficiencies — some organisations can have a dozen different BI tools in place.

Hostmann said the competency centre should also prepare to change how BI is done as 35 percent to 40 percent of requirements change in the first year of implementation. "You have to plan the ability to evolve," he said.