BI implementations are like icebergs


Once again, this article is inspired by a question on one of the many groups. As these are only viewable to members, I’ll confine myself to a general link to the site. The subject was what might be the best BI tool for a particular project. I was enormously encouraged by the number of people who said that this was putting the cart before the horse.

My experience is that while having a snazzy BI tool (Cognos PowerPlay being the one I have most often used) in place can win you plaudits, this is only because it is sitting on top of a warehouse that embodies the business information that the organisation needs. The four keys to a successful BI implementation are: –

  1. Forming a deep understanding of the key business questions that need to be answered.
  2. Piecing together the various elements of corporate data that relate to these questions (assuming that they exist) and establishing how they are linked together.
  3. Working out how to transform the data to meet the questions.
  4. Managing the behavioural changes required to ensure that use of BI becomes pervasive.

The above steps (which are typically iterative) form the foundation of a BI initiative that actually adds value. If you have followed them assiduously, then whatever front-end tool you choose, your users will like what they see*. You can argue about the precise figures, but 80-90% of your overall development project will relate to the three steps above and only 10-20% to layering a BI tool on top of your data.

When I presented at the Informatica World 2005 in Washington, DC I tweaked Thomas Alva Edison’s famous aphorism to suggest that: –

Business intelligence is 10% presentation and 90% integration.

Taking my admitted cheesiness to one side, I stand by this observation.

* Before I am accused of being agnostic about different BI tools, I should stress that they are not all the same, some are better than others and it is worth putting in the effort to pick the right one for your organisation. Instead my point is that if you do not have the correct data and business foundations, it is irrelevant how good your BI tool is. Equally, if you do have these underpinnings in place, then most BI tools will at least be adequate.