Agile Business Intelligence Solution Centers Are More Than Just Competency Centers

By Boris Evelson and Rob Karel

Our latest BI solution center (BISC, which in our definition is more than a BICC/BI COE) report is now live on the Forrester website. Here’s a brief summary.

Forrester firmly believes that tried and true best practices for enterprise software development and support just don’t work for business intelligence (BI). Earlier-generation BI support centers — organized along the same lines as support centers for all other enterprise software — fall short when it comes to taking BI’s peculiarities into account. These unique BI requirements include less reliance on the traditional software development life cycle (SDLC) and project planning and more emphasis on reacting to the constant change of business requirements. Forrester recommends structuring your BISC along somewhat different lines than traditional technical support organizations.

Earlier-generation BI support organizations are less than effective because they often

  • Put IT in charge
  • Remain IT-centric
  • Continue to be mostly project-based
  • Focus too much on functional reporting capabilities but ignore the data

Forrester recommends much more. We recommend deploying a next-generation BISC organization for agility and flexibility. Based on recent trends and ongoing research, we’ve updated our definition of a BISC from our earlier report as

A permanent, cross-functional, virtual or physical organizational structure, loosely coupled for flexibility and agility, responsible for the governance and processes necessary to deliver or facilitate the delivery of successful BI solutions, as well as being an institutional steward of, protector of, and forum for BI best practices.

How do you get started? First, broaden BISC scope and governance to account for the latest trends and best practices, such as

  • Integrating your BISC with other competencies, solutions, or COEs such as data governance, data quality (DQ), MDM, and EA.
  • Assigning the role of collecting, managing, and disseminating BI best practices to the BISC, and establish “BI on BI” capabilities to provide quantitative metrics on BISC successes and failures at the program and operational levels
  • Creating a close working partnership between business and IT
  • Focusing on coordinating business processes and data management efforts
  • Front-ending BI with a knowledge management environment

Then you also need to think outside the box with tons of innovative BISC best practices. Common sense may lead you to assume that completely centralizing BI resources will solve many of your BI challenges. Alas, that’s far from the truth. You need to overcome this traditional, albeit intuitive, way of thinking. Once you establish guidelines and principles for BISC scope and governance, consider Forrester’s more specific BISC organizational best practices, such as the ones to

  • Separate and loosely couple the data preparation and data usage support organizations
  • Establish a hub-and-spoke organizational model
  • Set up different guidelines for supporting front-office and back-office BI applications
  • Stay flexible and open-minded when categorizing project types
  • Treat your BI environment as its own data source (BI on BI)

Recognize the relationship between the BISC and data governance organizations. At the very least, Forrester recommends

  • Expanding the BISC vision to eventually evolve into enterprise data governance
  • Broadening the focus of the BISC beyond end user and stewardship processes

Define the BICC/BI COE roles to govern BI best practices. At the core of the BISC organization and processes is a centralized keeper of best practices. This part of BISC, commonly referred to as a BICC or BI COE, separates the what from the how — that is, it differentiates the actual solutions from the best practices. Firms must collect, analyze, organize, and categorize the lessons and best practices derived from the successes and mistakes of others, and the BICC/COE must make this knowledge widely and easily accessible. But no repository can fully substitute for personal, qualitative knowledge; that’s often more art than science. Therefore, staff the BICC/COE with individuals whose primary responsibility is to disseminate such knowledge above and beyond what's available in the repository. In large organizations, this often becomes a full-time job

And finally, fill the BISC organization with actual BI delivery roles. Aside from the governance, management, and SME roles, someone actually must roll up their sleeves and work down in the trenches to architect, design, develop, test, implement, and support BI initiatives and applications. In this report, Forrester recommends and describes in detail about 20 BISC roles and where they fit in the organizational structure. The document then provides tons of actionable recommendations on how to get started and stay successful.