Federated Business Intelligence Framework

Delivering good information and reporting through business intelligence (BI) is always a difficult activity to get right. Many organisations have spent large sums of money on new tools, new systems and working with organisations to create a standard set of processes, hierarchical structures and suite of reports. This essentially focuses on the technology and the processes. However one one thing I think is missing in all of this is the people and culture around information discovery to ensure it is used and fit for purpose. If not, you will find an ‘underground’ of BI taking place across your business…

With the changes to the business landscape, buzz around big data and new information discovery desktop and cloud solutions I see a growing split with what I call ‘traditional BI’ and ’emergent BI’. However first let me explain what I mean by these approaches.

Traditional BI – business intelligence is delivered in silos across the organisation. You may find there is an enterprise wide solution kept under rigid change control. BI is available across core areas of the business from finance to HR to procurements. The data spans the entire organisation and covers the cover business back / front office applications. The business can request changes to the standard suite of reports which come at high cost, long timescale and in some cases don’t deliver what the business wants in terms of rapid and adhoc analysis.

Emergent BI – still within the siloed structure of BI, but these areas of the business have invested in niche information discovery tools. They have become empowered to mine data, create their own mash ups and representations and leverage data held within their departmental systems blending. BI is no longer something built by IT but owned and developed by the business, however full integration with core applications does not exist and concepts of master data management are not in place.

Depending upon your organisation size, system landscape and maturity of BI one or both of these approaches may exist. However I believe the way to bridge the two and maximise both restrained and flexible BI is through the adoption of ‘federated BI’.

Federated BI – as the name suggests aims to achieve a blend of both approaches to delivering BI. It picks up on all the benefits to each approach offering the business what I feel is the best of both approaches.

The below diagram showing the arrangement in a federated BI model, effectively balancing a central core BI centre of excellence (CoE), a wider business community of BI power users and governing framework to tie it all together.

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Here are my 7 steps you need to put it in place to make it work:

1. Leadership – A clear direction of travel for BI within the business must be established, aligned to business strategy and given full support from the senior executive team. Establishing a executive sponsor from within this team will be needed to ensure resources and funding is available.

2. Governance and Framework – An overarching set of principles and standards to be adhered to across the organisation, such as naming conventions, master data model, data dictionaries, etc. A decision making process is needed to ensure the right stakeholders are involved and brought together when needed to support decisions to be made that can affect BI. Role profiles and security of the BI will be defined centrally and administered locally to ensure those that need access to consume or author can, where the policies and governance ensure appropriate authorisation and training is in place to support this.

3. Demand Management– As the BI delivery programme spreads across the organisation and more casual users are created, the demand will increase. The prioritisation and approval process of complex or large scale BI needs to be in place to guide investment and balance work load across the business. This ensures the resources in the business are being used to maximum effect and on the things that really matter to the business. It is key here to involve the right people from across the entire business to take decisions in approving work, it’s priority and hence balancing it across the organisation. This will ensure BI is delivered in a way that provides most value where it’s needed.

4. BI Community – The ‘right’ people from across the business need to be brought together to form the BI community. This cross functional group of people will help to shape the delivery of BI into the business both for themselves and the the general BI consumers. This is where the once split between IT and the business comes together with BI developers and analysts, BI super users and BI power users all working collaboratively. Working within the the BI framework and guiding principles the BI community share the same tools and separate out the BI needs of the businesses to those best placed to delivery and or provision it. Generally this falls into two areas of corporate mass consumption BI or one off adhoc analysis, where the latter is taken up by the BI power users and the former the BI developers.

5. Tools – Investment needs to be made in the right tools that cover the spread of BI consumption; professional reporting, dashboards, self service reports, information discovery and mobile BI. This should cover not just the software but hardware needed to deliver now and into the future. This may be the most difficult element to get right and depends largely upon the organisation, existing systems and the investments already made in BI tools. My recommendation here is to resist the temptation to invest in too many different products. Do not let the vendors drive your decisions based upon the bundled BI tools they are offering with their core systems. Consolidation on to one or two compatible BI products that offer the whole range of functionality should be the aim to miniseries long term maintenance costs and over complication of BI tools for the casual users.

6. Knowledge – this relies both upon the BI community and the Tools to achieve the best from both. Knowledge of the business is a key factor to delivering the right BI in a way that the business understands it. Knowledge and expertise in the toolset is critical to achieving the most cost effective and efficient solutions. Finally knowledge of the data underpins it all, which relies upon those process owners or subject matter experts in the business.

7. Flexible Process – agile and iterative development techniques need to be embraced to challenge the traditional delivery models. A balance of rapid prototyping and discovery at a departmental level needs to be balanced with agile development for corporate wide BI creation.

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