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The BI Assessment Process 

By Mark Robinson, BI Practice Manager,
Greenbrier & Russel

This article is an introduction to the Greenbrier & Russel (G&R) approach to business intelligence (BI) assessment.  In the article, we will cover when you should consider doing an assessment, what our assessment methodology consists of, and the deliverables and business benefits that can be achieved by doing one.  Our overall directive is to maximize the business benefits derived from a BI effort and to realize a fast ROI based on the assessment results.

A BI Assessment is a low-cost examination of all key aspects of your organization that could influence the overall success of your BI strategy.

Challenges: A typical BI Strategy is challenged to:

  1. Extract, consolodate, transform, and deliver volumes of disparate, often poorly understood and documented data.
  2. for conceptually important, but often poorly specified reasons.
  3. to a diverse group of users (both internal and external) with varied levels of training and skill!

Even more challenging, the data warehouse is required not to perform this complex task once, but repeatedly and reliably, in an ongoing, timely, robust, and extensible fashion.

Pressures: The pressure for delivery of effective BI solutions continues to grow.  There are a multitude of business drivers the organization faces--increasing competition, more sophisticated and better informed consumers, changing markets, changing regulatory environments, just to name a few.  Organizations are driven to respond with better targeted products, improved customer relationship management, and greater operational efficiency.  Responding effectively to these pressures demand more accurate, reliable, and timely information and analysis. 

Successful BI organizations may well be the successful business enterprises of the future.  And there is an urgency to put a BI solution into play, based on market pressures, along with pure financial considerations.

Rationale for the BI Assessment

There are both long-term and short-term benefits to be gained from conducting a BI assessment.

1. First, it's a great way to obtain a quick and low-cost validation of your BI project's proposed direction.  A detailed assessment can help you determine if the business and technical assumptions are accurate and if the project team has overlooked any critical factors. 

2. Also, the results of the assessment can be quickly acted upon.  If an assessment is done correctly, it can help you identify weaknesses and roadblocks to success, which can help in developing contingency plans.

3. Simply conducting the assessment will build awareness and support for your BI initiative.  If you are asking the right questions and involving the right people before the project is launched, they are more likely to understand your goals and assist in meeting them.  Simply getting and keeping the key decision-makers informed can make a huge difference as your project proceeds; this can influence funding and staffing

4. As for the more long-term benefits, a BI assessment improves the chances of having positive project ROI because it helps to identify business opportunities and goals before the project is launched.  Done correctly, the BI assessment establishes a cohesive, evolutionary vision for current and future development. 

5. Perhaps some of the greatest benefits come from the discoveries that a company makes about itself.  For example, one company discovered that their marketing, sales, and finance people all used the same basic metrics to run their portions of the business (They used different names, but it was essentially the same data).  The assessment helped them realize that these groups really needed to be collaborating more, and that a data warehouse could help them communicate more effectively.  This can pave the way for fundamental organization and business process improvements.

When to Do An Assessment

The best time to conduct an assessment is before you launch a costly and highly visible business intelligence project.  Again, taking stock of your company's current situation to establish if you even need a BI solution is key.

But it's never too late.  For example, if you've already implemented a data warehouse, an assessment is a great way to determine its ROI and discover potential expansion areas--how are people currently using the data warehouse, and are there other business opportunities that could be exploited?

BI assessments are also a great way to direct a failed or struggling project back on track.  Many times, BI projects fail, and then the original concepts and benefits are discarded, which leaves the organization worse off; the lost momentum may well nullify all future attempts at building BI for your organization.

Typical times that a maturing data warehouse may benefit from reassessment include:

·  Revitalize an existing data warehouse

·  Make a transition from BI “builders” to BI “operators” – The BI organization needs to ensure ongoing data quality, enhancement, and evolution in parallel with changing business needs, continuous management of a sound technical infrastructure, and continuously effective delivery of business information.

·  Move from “first generation” to “second generation” BI – BI needs to migrate from loosely structured pooling of data to an improved structure with high levels of data integration, data accessibility, and customized information delivery.

·  Position BI as a core technology, and extend their leading edge to include knowledge management.

·  Growing the departmental BI solution into an enterprise-wide solution.  Given better technology and infrastructure, organizations can begin considering this transition in a cost effective manner while boosting the business benefits derived in exposing the insight to even more knowledge workers.

BI represents a long-term commitment, and a key business enabler.  Sustained value--given that the BI solution is deployed within a continuously changing landscape of technology, organizational structure, business priorities, and marketplace realities--demands a BI solution that evolves and adapts.  Periodic assessment of the BI solution and roadmap may be necessary to ensure continued health, vitality, and value.

G&R’s BI Assessment Methodology

The assessment can be the first phase of an engagement with your company, preceding a definition phase (where requirements are fully specified) and subsequent implementation. 

This definition and implementation phase is usually targeted at 90-120 days to ensure we can deliver specific business benefits quickly. 

The assessment can be preceded by a clarity workshop, where we have a discussion of key developments in BI, some best practices, and a high level discussion of the challenges within your organization.  A guided discovery can also occur, where we spend a day or two with your subject matter experts to review your current situation and strategize on the best approach for BI development.

BI represents a large, complex undertaking with many, interdependent parts.  As with any complex undertaking, assessment is most successful when the complex problem is divided into smaller, more manageable pieces. 

Our experience has shown that an assessment along three tracks, which are further divided into key task groups, produces the most effective outcome:

The first track is the Business Analysis Track.  The key task groups involved here are:

·  Business Requirements Analysis

·  Organizational Analysis

·  Methodology and Project Management

The second track is the Technology Track.  The key task groups involved here are:

·  Infrastructure Software

·  Hardware and Technology

Finally, the Information Architecture Track involves examining the information architecture as it relates to the other track considerations to ensure proper alignment of business and technology objectives.

Conclusion

BI assessments are not a rote process--judgment and insight based on professional experience are required.  BI assessments are inevitably dynamic and mutable by nature.  We need to be both experienced and agile in order to provide the framework and rigor necessary to apply our experience and knowledge for rapid BI solution delivery.

At Greenbrier & Russel, we have performed numerous assessments for a wide variety of clients in many industries.  We have sustained long-standing relationships with many Chicago-based companies and implemented many of their complex BI solutions.  A BI assessment may help your organization ensure a highly successful BI solution roadmap.

For more information Ryan Dai at Greenbrier & Russel.


 

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