Masters of the Information Universe or BI Gatekeepers?

Susan Andre Survival Strategy Column

Companies must ensure that individuals do not use the organisation's strategic information as an "internal weapon".

Individuals who promote their own views on how the creation of a central base of information should be tackled all too often stall the process of delivering valuable information, either with malicious intent, or due to a lack of understanding of the value that such a base will provide.

Parameters

"We have to ensure that information is used to support business objectives and not to promote the personal ambitions of staff."

What is the point of arguing about the benefits of operational data stores versus data warehouse versus data marts, while the window of opportunity for strategically utilising this information closes on their organisation?

Managers strategising and using the organisation's resources ineffectively are wasting millions of rands on not approaching one of the most valuable assets correctly. This could be as a result of their resistance to change, or due to the fact that they are not focused on the company's best interests.

Considering the strategic role of information in the organisation, care should be taken that individuals do not use this as an "internal weapon".

First and foremost we have to ensure that information is used to support business objectives and not to promote the personal ambitions of staff, at any level.

Secondly, more time should be spent on determining what information is required to guide the organisation into the future.

Coupled with this, the management of the entire process needs to be improved – from retrieving, cleaning and restructuring – through to delivering it to the required medium by the person that is going to use that information.

Handling exceptions

It is also essential that the entire process is automated and properly documented, and attention should be paid to how exceptions are handled. There also has to be a transfer of skills to ensure that more than one person is involved in building an understanding of the process.

So why do we battle to do this?

To truly and properly support this concept and the supporting technology requires a radical change to a number of IT business practices, including systems building methodology, required IT expertise, and future negotiations with information services providers to your business customers.

One of the reasons is the slow adoption of new paradigms by IT, which is inevitable when embracing data warehousing. It starts and ends with people, their level of skill and experience, and their ability to rapidly adapt to change. Therefore, we need to assess ourselves on an individual basis.

Actions, such as sourcing-in a reputable partner who has a philosophy of skills transfer, investing in proper training and education can be taken in order to ensure success.

Companies need to decide on the importance of predicting the path of future growth and competitive advantage for their organisation. The survival of a business could depend on the smallest piece of accurate and timely information. It has to be correct, not only within one business area, but correct at a corporate level too. As an organisation, we need to think how we might reorganise around a new set of processes, methods and enabling technology to satisfy the organisation's growing and insatiable thirst for valid and timely information, and yet not hobble the ability to continue to support the transaction-processing environment.

Evolving architecture

Last but not least, we also require an understanding of the technology and how best to integrate it within an evolving architecture. This new target architecture will have to take into consideration not only the needs of our new data warehousing environment but also our existing technology environment, as it constantly undergoes change too.

Any investment decision regarding information technology must take a view on the future. The decision is part of a strategic alignment of IT with business needs. It is an attempt to proactively manage uncertainty.

Care should be taken not to follow a purely economic approach, such as return on investment, since this may rule out many important opportunities that the data warehouse and business intelligence projects could deliver, as they cannot in all cases always demonstrate a clear break-even or return in financial terms.

The correct approach to delivering information to the business requires innovative thinking and flexible designs.

The more agile the organisation's information strategy, the greater its ability to continually create and recreate sources of tomorrow's revenue, such as customer retention, service quality, speed to market and product/service innovations that anticipate customer needs.

Therefore instead of being the business intelligence gatekeepers, we should strive to be masters of our own information universe and in doing so democratise the usage of strategic information.