BI has changed a lot in the last two decades. Technologies and best practices have evolved, and we've found more ways in which a BI program can deliver value. Some of these innovations have occurred outside of IT or the BI Competency Centers that many businesses have established. At the same time, many organizations are moving to make business units autonomous.
These changes lead many people to ask what exactly is BI? Is it a box on the org chart? Does it include analytics that were never done by IT? How do data governance and master data management fit in?
Business Intelligence Defined
Business Intelligence:The use of information to improve business performance- Chris Adamson
The first thing to note about this definition is that it does not address any specific technologies or methods. These aspects change over time, and they certainly influence what we may be able to achieve. But the objective is always to provide business value.
Secondly, note that this definition is not beholden to the boundaries of a departmental structure. Regardless of who develops, supports or uses solutions, it's all considered BI.
Let's take a quick look at both these aspects.
BI Services and Activities
The reason we commit resources to BI programs is simple: we intend to use information to deliver some kind of business value. The definition has been crafted to cover any activities that support this objective. It can be used to describe a variety of activities that provide business value, both old and new.
Among the older activities it covers:
- Traditional reporting, OLAP and ad hoc functions
- Dashboards and scorecards
- Traditional data warehouses and/or data marts
- Data integration services
- Business analytics and predictive analytic
- Master data management
- Data governance
- Virtualization and federation services
- Transaction processing
BI and the Org Chart
While you may have a group responsible for BI program management, it is important to understand that the scope of BI reaches well beyond this group. The delivery of business benefit from information impacts the entire organization.
Some of the functional areas that participate in BI are:
- Business units All of the value from BI happens within business areas that use information. This is where decisions are made and impacts are realized. For many businesses, responsibility for development of BI solutions also lies in business areas. This is particularly the case for analytics, but also increasingly for the traditional forms of BI.
- BI Competency Centers Whether part of IT or external to it, many organizations have established a centralized resource for planning and overseeing the development of traditional forms of BI, such as data marts, dashboards or scorecards. In some cases, these centers have become focused on providing advisory services to business units that create and manage their own solutions.
- Analytic Competency Centers Business analytics often begins within business areas such as marketing or risk management. Analytic competency centers are developed to help other areas of the business leverage information in a similar manner. Whether part of the BI competency center or distinct from it, this is also a core BI function.
- IT At a minimum, IT has some responsibility for the technical infrastructure on top of which information systems are built -- networks, computers and the services that keep them up and running. IT may also have responsibility for some of the business applications and data management solutions.
We're not far from an age where BI is not a separate part of our information architecture. We're not there yet, but several trends have us on this path:
- Focus on the future value and re-use of data managed by operational applications
- Commitment to data governance
- Maturation of master data management solutions
- Technological advances in data management and information access
When we finally arrive at a unified information architecture, the definition of BI will still hold. We will be closer to delivering on its promise than ever before.
And, without a doubt, we will have come up with ways of using information to deliver value that have not even be thought of today.