For years, organizations of hundreds to thousands of employees have successfully implemented business intelligence (BI), a term that refers to the processes, software programs, technologies, and best practices used in support of decision making. One approach to implementing BI is the formation of a BI Steering Committee. A committee for this purpose will most often be successful when the executive management of the organization is engaged well before the committee is formed.
Who Should Initiate the Committee?
The initiator will likely step up from a finance, marketing, sales or information technology department. The one who initiates is far less important than the next step: Involve executives in selecting committee members from their departments. It is valid to select two or three people from each of the above functional areas, and suggest them as members to the highest level executive in their group.
Representation from multiple business units increases the opportunity for success. Why? BI information crosses departmental lines, so collaboration is a necessary ingredient to building a decision-making resource.
Committee Roles: Beyond the Rogue
The late Dr. Cyril Brookes commented on rogue BI as "the user self-creation of unofficial, unapproved corporate performance reporting, competitive analysis and customer behavior assessment". He noted that it is not necessarily a bad position, as the rogue will know what he wants sooner than it will be delivered by most IT groups. Yet, the rogue is akin to the "Cowboy Programmer," who wanders off on her own to create a solution to a problem that is only partially understood.
Instead, committee roles should align to functional roles. Domain expertise is required to be a contributing member of a committee. Members must have deep, operational knowledge of the department that they represent. Business analysts in finance and marketing are focused on defining metrics and measuring performance. Data architects are focused on database design, integration, and cleansing operations. Network engineers know storage and bandwidth situations. Sales managers are keenly aware of customer relationship management.
The objectives of the committee are to produce multiple action plans which, when completed, result in systems that will provide better decision-making capabilities for the organization. Plans to achieve the objectives vary. One organization may find their BI committee successful when a reporting center is online. Another will already have hundreds of reports in dozens of categories, and needs to automate delivery of many in lieu of rote employee actions to produce the same reports. Creating dashboards and scorecards with up-to-date data, backed by the ability to quickly drill down to underlying data, is the standard others define. Platform-independence, which assumes delivery of information to devices such as phones and digital signage, is the goal of many.
A BI Steering Committee will need to meet on a regular basis for months. One-hour meetings should be weekly for at least the first 90 days. Weekly meetings ensure measurable progress in small steps. BI is not a technology or solution that suddenly becomes available. A three-month period allows 12 or 13 meetings, which is necessary to explore the range of topics in the BI spectrum. The step-by-step approach provides visibility to the progress made in reaching the defined objective.
Critical Success Factors
Implementing the BI Center by committee has multiple points for measuring success. Engaging corporate executives and informing them of progress is a given. Maintaining the meeting schedule is a sign of success. Defining reports is a positive step. White boarding initial dashboards and scorecards shows progress. Acquiring hardware and software specific to the project is a key point. Eliciting five needs of each business group represented by committee members is a success.
Likelihood of success dims when the committee fails to meet regularly. It is expected that members will miss one in ten meetings, but more than that is a sign of erosion. Lack of action on weekly progress plans is a clear danger signal. Executives that bring in a consultant to assess progress is a problem sign, but only if progress toward objectives is slipping.
Business intelligence is a critical success factor in today's markets. Those firms that move past the posturing and purely technical aspects of building data warehouses and delivering reports are in a position to succeed. Implementing BI through a committee positions all areas of a company to contribute, and the result is a BI Center that serves the needs of all.