Benefits-Led Business Intelligence Can Drive Value

Posted 2012-09-14

By Spyros Stamoulis and Gareth Cummins

Today's challenging economic environment, intense competition and pressure on growth make business intelligence more important than ever. A successful BI solution can harness the combined power of applications, infrastructure, tools and best practices to provide executives with ready access to, and analysis of, critical information for decision making that will drive corporate performance.

Yet many companies have suffered through unsuccessful attempts at developing BI. If your company is one of them, you have likely seen low adoption rates, skepticism among users, and a lack of appropriate tools and executive support. You may also have seen a proliferation of reports that lack common data definitions and have limited usefulness for supporting decision makers—the precise opposite of what was intended.

Why have so many companies failed to develop successful BI? We've found that unsuccessful programs have one major mistake in common: They approach BI as either a business issue or a technology issue when it is actually both.

Superior BI facilitates successful decision making, and it can improve your organization's performance today and into the future. But it requires a collaborative effort by your business and technology resources, as well as a defined process with three primary steps.

Step 1: Defining a Road Map

A successful BI program starts with a business case that's jointly developed by your business and IT resources. The business case should define a prioritized delivery road map based on projected benefits that prove the BI solution and provide measurable value to the business.

The benefits case should focus on answering the following questions:

“What reports do we really need to run the business?”

“Do the reports clearly link to our primary business drivers?”

“Will the information we generate be actionable once we have it?”

Only when information has a clear value can it be truly useful as BI.

Fully realizing the benefits of BI may also require linking to other programs or projects in your business portfolio. For instance, if the objective is to rationalize systems, increase revenue and reduce head count, then your BI delivery should be planned as part of a wider set of business and IT restructuring plans.

A consumer goods company we worked with wanted to cut back on the 1,600 finance reports it was producing. The business leaders pared the list to 100 reports that were clearly aligned to critical business drivers and metrics.

Next, they worked with IT to develop a benefits-driven road map showing how to maximize the benefits of the reduced number of reports. As a final step, the BI was linked to an existing finance transformation work stream to allow the company to realize end-to-end benefits from process to report across the entire finance function.  

Step 2: Securing Executive Support

Another primary component of BI development is securing ownership at the most senior level of the organization. Executives at the top often see BI as something to be handed off to IT.

True, the CIO is the voice of practicality, the person who can translate abstract desires into technology, architecture and delivery. But while IT plays a critical role in realizing the BI vision, the business must take ownership of the requirements from start to finish.

Senior executives should ensure there is appropriate support for the BI project from design to delivery and beyond. Key stakeholders and steering group members from your pool of business and IT talent should be selected up-front, since collaboration from the outset of the project will enable better decisions to be made about costs, timing and process changes.

At a global entertainment company, for example, the lack of a consistent suite of reports across all regions was hindering the growth of European operations. A governance model was created to manage BI centrally across business and IT, and each country’s head of operations took responsibility for solution adoption. Despite differing levels of operational maturity in each region, the solution succeeded because there was business ownership at the top, and business and IT collaborated from the start of the initiative.

Step 3: Developing Flexibility

Finally, flexibility needs to be infused throughout the business design—looking not just at current needs, but also at what the business will require in the future based on the business model and strategic direction. To keep the solution fresh and relevant, it’s imperative to develop flexible data models capable of addressing future business requirements and organizational change without the need for significant BI redesign.

As the solution is developed in line with benefits realization (using information technology to deliver business results consistently and predictably), opt for agile development methodologies that pull business and IT teams together to identify the requirements, prioritize what is built first, develop the solution, and test and tweak it so that you have rapid delivery of relevant solution components in a 12-week period—instead of many months.

Consider the consumer goods company that needed to develop a BI solution to capture near-term savings while creating flexibility to meet the future needs of its rapidly changing organization. The company looked beyond its current structure to consider how its BI data model, master data and hierarchies could be developed to provide flexible analysis as the business changed. The design was further future-proofed by linking the BI plan to other ongoing and planned business and IT projects to ensure the company had a portfolio-wide view of potential future organizational change.

After the Build: Sustaining the System

Of course, you’re not done once your BI system is built. Your business will change, new requirements will come through, and if you’re not careful, your system can quickly fall into disrepair, directly affecting the desired benefits realization.

So, how do you coordinate and prioritize new requirements? How do you know what to build and how to build it? How do you monitor the effectiveness of the system to make sure it remains relevant over the years?

Whether physical or virtual, a center of excellence, or BI competency center, that includes people who understand the company’s business and IT can help you monitor user adoption and benefits realization, and drive enterprisewide standardization of your BI solution as technology improves and your business changes.

More than ever, developing superior BI is an essential component of success. To avoid the most common mistakes companies make in developing BI, tap both your business and IT resources to create a benefits-led business case that has senior-level support and is flexible enough to grow as your business evolves.

The result will be a successful BI program that delivers the right information to guide your executive team in making decisions to help your organization prosper.

Spyros Stamoulis is practice partner for the Business Transformation Practice at Wipro Consulting Services. He is based in London and may be reached at Gareth Cummins is associate consulting partner for Wipro’s Business Transformation Practice in London and may be reached at