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BI Briefs:
Business Intelligence Goes Back to the Future, Part 3: Focus on Data, Then Tools

online columnist Rick Sherman     Column published in DMReview.com
September 8, 2005
  By Rick Sherman

In previous articles in this "back to the future" series, we discussed several business intelligence problems that keep cropping up, year after year:

In this issue we attempt to put tools into perspective.

Much of the IT literature that you read focuses on tools and technology. That is understandable, since product vendors churn out these materials to sell and market their products. And, of course, many of us are geeks at heart, so we love to read about technology.

When people discuss their business intelligence (BI), CRM or corporate performance management projects, they primarily talk about tools and technology. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it is kept in perspective.

It does become a problem when tools and technologies are the primary focus. It is easier to focus on the technology than it is to tackle the challenges associated with deploying a successful enterprise-wide BI solution. We get lulled into thinking that technology will solve all our problems after seeing endless product demos and articles that promise instant nirvana if we just use the right tool. And, too often, failed BI efforts are blamed on technology.

This preoccupation with tools leads many projects to focus way too much on tool selection. Some project managers even have to develop a proof of concept (POC) to validate tool selections. Sure, selecting tools is necessary, and it is good when business users get involved in the selection and POC activities. It often seems, however, that a significant amount of a project's time and resources are consumed by these tools-related activities, especially in the early stages.

However, providing an elegant dashboard and the ability to slice and dice with a great BI tool is just part of the story. What most business users really want from a BI solution is to get the right data, along with the right business metrics, supporting the right business processes. Otherwise, what's the point? Business users are the BI solution's customers, so the solution had better make them happy.

How do you get the right data, metrics and processes incorporated in your solution? Talk to business users and discuss the tough stuff. In the real world, data, metrics and business processes are never as simple or clean as they are in textbooks and case studies. But your BI solution has to handle the complex data issues and business processes users need to analyze their business and make decisions.

Gathering business requirements, reverse engineering existing reports (along with their corresponding data and metrics) and getting business users involved in an iterative development of your BI solution is critical to the business ROI and success of your business. Active and extensive business user involvement - examining the complex and seemingly convoluted data and handling what the users want - are keys to success.

Regardless of the tools and technologies used, understand and represent the right data, metrics and business processes within your BI solutions. The business community will only use your BI solution if the data they need is there. They don't care what product features are available. Concentrate on the requirements first and foremost, regardless of the last article you've read or demonstration you have seen.


Check out DMReview.com's resource portals for additional related content, white papers, books and other resources.

Rick Sherman has more than 18 years of business intelligence and data warehousing experience, having worked on more than 50 implementations as an independent consultant and as a director/practice leader at a big five firm. He founded Athena IT Solutions, a Boston-based business intelligence consulting firm and is a published author and industry speaker. He can be reached at rsherman@athena-solutions.com or (617) 835-0546.

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