Pfizer Gets Rx for Self-Service BI

Most of the data stored in a data warehouse doesn’t wind up being of much use to the business executives it’s supposed to benefit because cumbersome processes make it too difficult to access in a timely manner. As a result, most business decisions wind up being made based on data residing in local spreadsheets, which are often riddled with both conflicting data, faulty assumptions and hidden errors.

Sadly, because it takes so long for IT organizations to create a custom report, many business leaders don’t even bother to ask for one. Most IT organizations create thousands of canned reports, but any time a business executive wants to know more about the data in one of those reports, IT has to create a new query. By the time the IT organization can get an answer to the question, chances are high no one in the business will remember why they asked it in the first place.

In an effort to turn all the data Pfizer collects into a true asset for the business, the supply chain business unit of Pfizer challenged Steven Kern, the company’s vice president of global manufacturing business intelligence (BI), to come up with a way to essentially take IT out of the data query and exploration process.

Speaking at a MicroStrategy Symposium, Kern described how his group eliminated all the presentation layers of the BI environment that were previously controlled directly by the IT organization. In place of those static presentation layers, there are now a series of self-service BI dashboards that enable business users to drill down into any set of data at will, without any intervention required on the part of the IT department.

Kern said that instead of thinking in terms of reports, the IT organization within the supply chain unit of Pfizer now views the IT world in terms of actual business processes. IT still runs the data warehouse, but access to it is provided via applications that the BI unit creates and then hands of to the business units.

Business Leaders Are Held Accountable for Data Quality

That approach, which won Kern the Supply Chain President’s Vision Award at Pfizer, provides Pfizer with much higher quality data. It turns out that when business leaders are held accountable for the data quality they are going to use in their own applications, a lot more care is applied to making sure the data is correct when it gets entered. In the past, there was always an assumption that the IT organization would find some way to resolve all the data inconsistencies.

All this is possible, Kern said, because the MicroStrategy data warehouse serves up metadata that the BI unit then embeds in an application. That, in turn, makes it possible for everyone in the business to share access to the same data.

Senior-level managers can view top-line trends. Department heads can then drill into that same data on a more granular level to identify specific issues using the same application.

Kern said Pfizer is now in the process of applying this business analytics approach to the rest of the business. In fact, the biggest challenge he now faces is to make the rest of the business units aware of the new state of analytics at Pfizer. A few times, Kern saw mobile computing projects that involved an expensive systems integrator that proposed replicating BI functionality his group had already built.

As self-service BI starts to take hold across the enterprise, it might take some IT organizations time to adjust to their new roles. But one thing that is certain is that the days when IT organizations spent massive amounts of time generating canned reports that few people ever read are mercifully coming to an end.