At the IBM Cognos User Group in Miami, I gave a presentation discussing how to increase executive engagement in Business Intelligence initiatives. During my presentation, we discussed how executives must understand that Business Intelligence (BI) is not just “an IT thing.” It’s an organizational thing. It’s a strategic thing. So, the question is, where should the business intelligence team land on the organizational chart?
Arguing the Case for Business Intelligence
I pondered the question, “Where should business intelligence land on the organizational chart?” for a significant amount of time. Then the lawyer in me came out and I created valid arguments for the business intelligence team to report to IT, to marketing, to finance… depending on the business initiatives, I could make every case. But it’s when I took a step back asking the primary question, “Why do we need business intelligence?”, did that bring clarity. The role of BI is to provide information that leads to making better business decisions. Why do we need better business decisions? So, we can achieve the strategic goals of the organization and grow the business.
“Business Intelligence’s job is to provide data and analytics to execute what’s needed to achieve the strategic goals.”
The Business Intelligence Disconnect
For the last 5 years, I have been surveying BI professionals on whether they can clearly define the strategic goals of their organization. Did you know that less than 4% of BI professionals I surveyed can clearly define the strategic goals of their organization? Yet it’s their job to deliver information to achieve those goals. Does anyone else see the disconnect here? It’s as if the executives are asking the BI team to run a marathon but they never tell them where the finish line is, then they get upset when the BI team doesn’t cross the finish line. Could part of the problem be that the BI is hiding in IT and not getting access to the insight and information they need?
Rebranding Business Intelligence to Strategic Analytics
I think the real issue is that business intelligence is NOT an IT thing, it should be an organization initiative and priority coming from the top. It should impact every area of the organization. So, why don’t more companies create a place at the adult table for a Chief Strategic Executive and move the business intelligence team to report up to the him/her? I will go so far as to say we need to rebrand business intelligence to be called strategic analytics and allow it to encompass not just reporting, but predictive and prescriptive analytics. Let’s move the talented BI professionals out of the back room and into a room connected to the boardroom.
Strategic Analytics fka Business Intelligence is Game Changing!
Are you questioning if strategic analytics is really that important? Maybe you are thinking that it’s a fad or maybe that it’s not really a long term competitive differentiator. Could it be that business intelligence is like Six Sigma where it gives you quick wins if you are the first in your market but once your competitors implement it too, it’s no longer an advantage?
The answer is NO! Strategic Analytics/Business Intelligence, is a huge competitive differentiator and will be for a long time. It’s not just companies that are the first to succeed at BI that win market share and increased profits. The companies with the best data will win! Yes, your unique data is golden!
Hypothetically, let’s say you develop some advanced forecasting algorithms that allow you to accurately predict your numbers, eliminating waste and bottlenecks in supply. You use the magical algorithm for a while and somehow your key competition get a hold of your secret sauce. Will it level the playing field that they are now using your algorithm? Will you now have equal insights into the market? I argue no. Just because your competitors have the same formula does not mean the competitive edge has been eliminated because for years you have been accumulating this treasure trove of data. The algorithm won’t be magical without the data. Yes, your competitors have data, but if your company and the executives are committed to truly being a data driven company, they will invest in protecting and growing one of your most valuable assets, the data!
Data really is that important. Why did IBM buy the Weather Channel? Was it to know the weather? No, it was for the data! http://money.cnn.com/2015/10/28/technology/ibm-weather-channel/index.html
Good data that is leveraged properly is gold! But as long as the business intelligence team is being kept in the backroom and not in the boardroom, companies will be challenged to find and mine their motherlode.
I realize my vision of companies truly making data and analytics strategic will not come overnight. It will take huge organizational commitments from the top of the org chart and maybe even the board table to transform. Additionally, the members of the business intelligence teams must know the business, speak the business, and think the business. They will have to learn soft skills and be master facilitators and communicators, but the transformation could also transform industries.
Should the Business Intelligence Team be in IT?
It would be remiss of me not to discuss if the business intelligence team should remain part of the IT department, where I see it most often. Typically, the BI team consist of highly skilled technical talent that understand the data and are experts in Cognos, Tableau, Qlik or other BI solutions. However, it’s been my experience that business intelligence professionals are often challenged to fully understand the business. Despite their efforts, they find it difficult to get time with executives and subject matter experts to discuss the business and their needs. Admittedly, many IT professionals could do a better job of working to understand the business and challenges of the functional area. For BI to be game changing, to identify opportunity and treats early, it must do more than just present the data in reports. Companies need to evolve to not only report on historical data but forecast the future and leverage predictive and prescriptive analytics. Despite wanting to rebrand business intelligence to “Strategic Analytics,” it currently is called “BUSINESS” intelligence and not “Data” intelligence or technical intelligence. Understand the business is essential.
IT Identity Crisis
Another challenge with BI landing under IT on the org chart is that in many organizations, the IT department has an identity crisis. For years, IT has been viewed more as a bottleneck than a strategic partner within the organization. A reason for this may be that IT often speaks the language of geek a lot better than the language of business. I don’t have time to cover the huge communication gap between technologists and the business users in this document, but it is as if they speak two different languages. For business intelligence to provide the strategic insights it’s capable of providing, the team must breakdown the communication barriers and become fluent in both tech and business. The BI team must be respected and be leaders that can facilitate discovery and education of analytics to the functional areas without coming across as condescending. Superior BI team members are what I call socialized nerds. But, let’s face it, IT often has a reputation issue within the organization. Until CIO’s are able to transform IT to be seen as team players and strategic partners by the business, the business intelligence professionals that are under the IT department may be hurt by the reputation of IT. This is unfortunate for all but most importantly, significantly impacts the speed and success of the organization to find their data motherlode.
As single spark can ignite a prairie fire– Chinese Proverb
Just the Beginning.
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When your company is ready to start strategizing and creating a Business Intelligence Roadmap, contact me as Services@lodestarsolutions.com.
June 26, 2018
Heather L. Cole