To BICC Or Not To BICC (Part 3)

In this, my final post on the BICC subject (well, for now at least...), I take a look at the softer side of BI management...

The Balancing Act

Put simply, if BI is delivered well it should generate two things.....firstly, answers [no pun intended] to the questions that the business know need to be answered....but then quickly followed by questions (the silent tidal wave of all the things that the business always wanted to do/know/ask, but just never had the capability).  The up side to this is that, given a data model that withstands the test, the toolsets allow end-users to deal with the tidal wave themselves.  The down side is that this runs the risk of opening up some sort of Pandora’s box.....badly written reports, measures calculated differently by different people, a back catalog of reports written but no longer used, inefficiency, inefficiency, inefficiency...  The whole things just needs managing.

And this is where the tricky balancing act arises.  For me, it is essential that the BICC takes responsibility for implementing a set of policies, processes and roles and responsibilities, all moulded into a Governance Framework, that lays out the ‘rules of engagement’.  Policy should cover off the main building blocks which will feed into the solution design (such as the security and access, data retention, SLA’s, metric ownership, report accreditation etc.).

The processes required to underpin your BI usage will naturally fall into three main buckets:  those that are internal to the BICC; those that relate to end-users and their relationship with the BICC; and those that relate to how the BICC interacts with IT in the delivery of ongoing change;  Again, the processes can’t really be prescribed but should be drawn up based on what is going to work and be adopted (factoring in BICC scope, resource profiles, organisational culture and so on).  However, the types of area that might be considered may be;  In the first bucket: how data quality is monitored; usage tracking; catalog housekeeping;  In the second bucket: report creation; change request; 1st line support; master data correction;  In the third bucket:  Work Take-On; Operational Schedule Management; 2nd/3rd Line Support; and so on.

Further to this, it is essential that the users of the system know what they are able to do and how they should be doing other words, they need to be trained and understand best practice!  And all I’ll say is that training needs to be seen as something more than a one-time session, scheduled at some point just before the system is implemented.  To my mind, the single most important difference between BI solutions and other transactional systems is that BI solutions are organic - they grow and change shape over time and along with the business.  For this reason, when the BICC thinks about its training strategy, it should be thinking about how it communicates out change and best practice in order to maintain effectiveness.  And whilst we're on the subject of communication....

Getting Passionate

I believe that the best BI solutions (again technology set to one side) are where the business has a level of enthusiasm, whether natural or developed, for information and what can be done with it.

Therefore, and in addition to all the other strands of activity that might fall under your BICC, it is incumbent on the BICC to evangelise.  To advocate the usage of information for the benefit of the business.  And to fight the corner for investment in BI (regardless of whether the BICC actually owns a budget or not).  If the BI solution is well defined, designed and delivered, it will start its life being highly thought of by the business.  If it is not then protected, guided and grown, it runs a risk of slowly becoming delinquent and returning a reducing benefit.  At the outset, the BI solution will be used heavily.  If it is not then grown in the right way, it will become less useful, less useable and return a reducing benefit.

So, one of the key roles of the BICC has to be to communicate.  It has to develop methods of communicating out strategy, policy, process, change and best practice.  It has to develop methods of capturing feedback, to understand what works and what doesn’t, what is being used and what isn’t, what new data is needed and what existing data isn’t.  It has to develop methods of communication which ensure that change is defined, designed, delivered and managed efficiently and within the timeframes that the business needs.  Finally the BICC needs to develop methods of communicating with the outside world.  With solution vendors, so that the technology roadmaps can continually be compared and re-evaluated.  With 3rd Party BI partners, who might be engaged for implementation, support or ongoing consultancy.  With other, like-minded user organisations, in order to support innovation.  And, if the strategy is such, with suppliers, customers and others in the value chain.

On the bright side, there are usually people scattered around your organisation who are natural ‘data’ people.  It’s always a good idea to engage these people in what you are doing, not least as they may feel the most threatened by your BICC organisation.  They should be seen as potential 'BI champions' and future advocates of BI within their given departments and may prove a useful vehicle for communicating out the BI message.

Back To The Top

To summarise, BI technology comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the organisations using them come is infinitely more shapes and sizes.  I would argue that, regardless of shape or size, to make best use of BI technology, a mechanism is required to manage its usage and to coordinate any associated efforts and decisions.  However, it is important to recognise that there is a continuum between a full-blown BICC on one hand, and nothing on the other.  For any BICC-like initiative to be successful, the specifics need to be guided by the size, shape, culture and objectives of your organisation.  If you are competing in a fast moving environment, where information is the life-blood of your business, then your BI is likely to need greater coordination and may, therefore, warrant a heavy BICC investment.  If your organisation see’s reporting as a necessity rather than a differentiator, then the management and coordination will be completely different.

The historical challenges for the acceptance of the ‘BICC ideal’ revolved largely around justification of the costs, especially where the benefits tend to be seen as indirect and somewhat intangible.  However, an ever increasing number of organisations are looking towards their information asset as a source of competitive advantage and, as a result, are seeing the value not just in BI per se, but also in the coordination of its BI efforts.

So, if you are embarking on a strategic BI initiative, then it’s important that you look beyond the technology and the development lifecycle.  Start thinking in terms of how your BI is going to be used and how it is going to be managed as it evolves over time.  And, if you have implemented BI but seem to be seeing a reducing benefit over time, then it might be worth looking at whether your BI is becoming delinquent.  If it is, it might be time to do something about it.

If you have already implemented, are in the middle of implementing, or planning to implement a BICC-style organisation, I’d love to hear from you to understand some of your experiences.