To BICC Or Not To BICC (Part 1)

If your organisation has been using Business Intelligence in a strategic way for some time, then you will have already seen your BI solution evolve, grow and change from its original incarnation.  You will probably also have an appreciation of the importance of somehow taking ownership of this process of evolution.  Maybe you understood this before your project implementation or maybe you have learnt through experience.  If you are about to embark on a strategic BI initiative, then it’s worth thinking about your project delivery as the start of the journey, not the end.  And if you think this way, you’ll need to think about how you ensure that you maintain the maximum value of your solution as the needs and direction of your business change over time.

In this series of blog posts (my first since joining Rittman Mead in October), I’m going to take a look at some of the ways in which BI can be managed effectively, by considering the place of the Business Intelligence Competency Centre (BICC) in the real world.

Much has been written about BICC’s over recent years and, although there are one or two variations on the theme, the general consensus as to the purpose of a BICC and the reasons why enterprises would implement a BICC are pretty well established.  I’m not going to pick over the debate, suffice to say that my crystalisation would be this:

A BICC, or it’s equivalent, should exist to achieve four key fundamentals:

➡  To architect and then champion the enterprise BI Strategy

➡  To ensure that information is delivered to the business consistently, coherently and accurately

➡  To manage the tricky balancing act between end-user self-sufficiency, freedom and flexibility on the one hand and business control and alignment of efforts on the other

➡  To generate and maintain a level of passion for information within the business.....or (as I appreciate that this may be a tall order!) at least a level of awareness and interest.

Beneath each of these pillars sits a number of key elements and core activities, which I’ll address in subsequent posting’s over the next few days.  But before diving in, there’s an important question that I think needs addressing......

So, Where Are All These BICC’s, Anyway?

It occurs to me that despite all of the hype and the discussion underpinning BICC theory, the anecdotal evidence suggests that the uptake in and establishment of BICC’s has, at very best, been patchy.  There is certainly no obvious correlation between the uptake of enterprise BI and the implementation of BICC’s.....the “every good BI project must have a BICC” maxim definitely doesn’t hold true.  And talking to people on the subject, it becomes obvious that a fair number of people are aware of the BICC concept, but know of few who have implemented (or at least attempted to implement) one.

But I wonder whether this view is valid or not.  Based on my experiences, I’d suggest that there is already a significant amount of BICC-like activity happening in just isn’t being driven under a ‘BICC banner’ and invariably does not adhere strictly to the theory.  In fact, I suspect that a lot of this activity is happening without consciousness of the BICC phrase - it’s just being done because it makes sense.  Indeed, I have been in organisations where the suggestion of something called a ‘Business Intelligence Competency Centre‘ would have gone down like a lead balloon.  However, talk to people about the principles, imperatives and benefits behind the BICC and I would receive near universal agreement.  And this is principally down to the fact that, for any business serious about using information to drive competitive advantage, the benefits case for a BICC is, in the main, very compelling.

I suspect that the biggest challenge facing most historical BICC initiatives has been in the quantification of its value proposition.  Aside from efficiency gains arising from the delivery of BI systems, the benefits are largely intangible (how you put a figure against a benefits line of “Making Better Decisions” may have to wait for a future blog!).  And when compared to the costs associated with setting up and then running a BICC, in most cases, the equation just couldn’t be balanced.  It invariably depends on the business understanding the value that can be unlocked through its information assets.

Importantly, in my example above, the organisation had a near unstoppable thirst for information and also wore the psychological scars from a history of loosely controlled information (you know the story.....a proliferation of MS Access, departmental reports which were irreconcilable with each other, let alone back to the core systems, board meeting disputes over whose sales figure was correct etc. etc.)

So, if businesses are undertaking BICC-like activities (whether structured or not, consciously or not, whether called a 'BICC', 'MIS Team', 'Group Reporting function' or whatever), what are the things that they are trying to achieve?  And if you are about to embark on a strategic BI initiative, what are the non-technology things that you really should be thinking about?

In my next post, I’ll return to look at the four fundamental areas in more depth, starting with BI Strategy and Information Delivery...