Got Program?

I have seen Business Intelligence implementations both flourish and fail over the years.  The single most prevalent reason for failure has been the lack of an ongoing program.  BI programs are difficult because they must be tailored to the needs and the culture of each unique organization.  Here in a few broad strokes are the key elements of such a program.

First, what is a program?  A program is a set of activities designed to manage the needs of a process or entity. It is generally needed when the process or entity is of sufficient complexity (e.g., multiple departments, many participants, competing needs) to require more formalized management.   Business Intelligence in a corporate environment is of such complexity.  It involves the competing interests and priorities of the business and IT, it is almost always cross-departmental, it requires multiple data sources and platforms, and it is forever changing.

There are four key components of a BI program.  These are strategy, governance, resources, and sustainment.  Each is a required element of the whole, although they will come together differently in every circumstance. In addition, each component is interlinked with the others such that it is often difficult to determine where one ends and the next begins.

Strategy is the process of examining the company’s strategic goals and identifying the new or enhanced analytics that are required to meet them. The typical vehicle is the BI road map or portfolio, which should be reviewed quarterly.  It should take into account not only the development activities, but also hardware and resources.  Strategy is responsible for keeping the program’s eye on the ball.

Governance oversees the activities of the program including review of the road map, development of policy, and setting of priorities.  Policies include guidelines for maintaining data quality, rules on how code may or may not be promoted, and the definition of roles and responsibilities. Governance should represent all of the program’s stakeholders including business and IT.

The program resources are the people and roles necessary to perform the program work.  These include data stewards, business and functional analysts, data architects, and more.  These resources may be federated or part of a BI Center of Excellence.  In either case, the people as well as the roles should be clearly articulated.

Sustainment is the set of processes that maintain the program on a day-to-day basis.  This includes all levels of production support, version control, software patches and upgrades, troubleshooting, documentation, and ongoing user training.

There is effort required to establish a good BI program.  Like a good foundation, it needs to be built carefully, one stone at a time and then taken care of over the years.  Unlike a foundation, the program will change because the needs of the business and the world will change.

Without a BI program, an implementation is likely to founder.  Data quality will erode, test and production environments may become out of sync, documentation will become stale or disappear, and priorities will become confused.  With it, however, a company’s BI will be there to support strategic direction for years to come.

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