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Dresner’s Point: Make Sure Your Business Intelligence Solution isn’t Flying Blind

By May 6, 2013Article

The Agile software development methodology has been around for a long while, but organizations seldom apply the methodology to business intelligence.  Several tribe members at one of my #BIWisdom tweetchats on Twitter commented that they’ve seen more interest in Agile BI over the past six months and it was also discussed at a recent BI conference.

One of the tribe tweeted that the problem with Agile BI is that people don’t understand it is a more disciplined approach, not less disciplined.

So how does it apply to BI? It’s an ad hoc way to fail faster and with less risk. It means that organizations would be able to respond faster to the need for insight, not weighed down with the complexities of traditional data warehouses. It would accelerate the throughput of new data sources into the data warehouse instead of having to wait many weeks for implementation and would enable business users to interact with data using ad hoc tools.

As one of the members tweeted, it’s using the same techniques as Agile software development: short, iterative sprints adding up to a release, sprint planning and retrospectives, daily standups and the combination of a backlog and detailed sprint planning. It eliminates traditional static reporting. This disciplined approach allows an organization to respond quickly and effectively.

Simply put, it’s BI plus flexibility, a way to formalize the needed flexibility to get the desired outcomes.

It’s not cut and dried though, as evident in the tweetchat members’ issues brought out in our discussion:

  • What if the business can’t wait for even a sprint to look at new data?
  • Good start, but you often also need an abstracted service layer from source systems; otherwise, Agile is a pipe dream.
  • The business often judges BI on the front end, but Agile BI can flourish only if the whole stack is flexible. So the BI stack needs to be built for flexibility, but flexibility is often the last consideration.
  • How will the organization marry agility and governance?
  • Agile is often equated with fewer people, fewer steps and faster results. But how can an organization achieve this when the data is complex?
  • Where does Agile BI fit in an organization since it facilitates IT working closely with the business side. If it’s housed in a Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC), it can leverage cross-functional teams, one of the strengths of BICCs. But many organizations lack a BICC — which results in driving Agile BI into the IT group, without integrating the business users into the process.

As we whizzed through the tweetchat, the theme — and primary challenge with Agile BI — that finally emerged is the strategy. Does the strategy need to be agile, or is it that the tactical execution of the strategy needs to be agile? 

The BI strategy must have a feedback loop based on actual results and changes in external systems. Questions ensued:

  • What about the velocity of the feedback loops? It could cause recursive loops and work like a market meltdown.
  • How will the feedback loops impact the metrics since BI needs to measure results based on the strategy?
  • Will a feedback loop then indicate the strategy itself is wrong or indicate that just the execution of the strategy needs to change?

Like micro and macroeconomics, organizations will need a clear understanding of how the Agile BI process impacts their strategy and tactical operations.

Bottom line: No organization operates in isolation. Without the feedback loop enabled by Agile BI, an organization will be flying blind — and this phenomenon will dictate the tactical approach to BI initiatives.

In contrast, the more agile the organization becomes, the more modular framework it will need for BI and the more it will need self-service tools facilitating greater interaction with data. Agile BI is simply embracing a process that recognizes the fact that requirements change and decision cycles are faster in the new norm of today’s business. 

Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.

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