Business intelligence strategy success a matter of alignment

It sounds basic, but it isn't always happening: IT must partner with the business for a successful BI strategy. Here's where things go wrong.

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. -- Business intelligence (BI) remains a top investment priority for companies of all sizes,

but there are disconnects between these investments and the business value derived. In fact, only 15% to 20% of business users in organizations that have a business intelligence strategy are actually using BI tools, according to Gartner Inc.

Analysts and attendees at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit here point to a host of reasons for this disconnect: a lack of partnership between IT and the business side of the house, users' comfort with the tools they already know such as spreadsheets, a fragmented corporate strategy with business units making their own BI tool and strategy decisions, no connection between BI and business processes, and no governance over BI -- or too much.

"BI grew up departmentally … you have 100 [users] moving independently. And then again, other organizations have the problem of centralized BI that creates a bottleneck of users wanting their business needs met," said John Van Decker, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.

Yet despite any departmental, C-level or IT bureaucracy, BI initiatives are moving forward.

Business Intelligence is the one and only area Sappi Ltd., a global pulp and paper company group based in Johannesburg, South Africa, is investing in from an IT perspective this year in North America.

"We have the tools in place, and we need to prove the value of [BI] now," said Peggy Griffith, area manager of IT regional applications and BI out of South Portland, Maine.

Her company is consolidating four BI tools down to one -- and proving the value of a business intelligence strategy in areas such as logistics and inventory. "Too much inventory is an extreme expense," Griffith said. "We don't need extreme real-time [information], but we need enough data to plan ahead."

Like Sappi, VWR International LLC, a global laboratory supply and distribution company based in West Chester, Pa., wants to connect users to the right tools. "We have a number of tools -- SQL Server, SAP and so on," said Erik Kunz, a BI architect at VWR. "We have a lot of data, but we need to provide smart data, or the right data, to make the right decisions."

It was a big 'aha' for business users and IT to see how the two can work together.

Tim Acre, senior manager of BI, Allstate Insurance Co.

The "right data" needs to be determined through a collective effort. IT is "coming around … the business side needs to come around, too, meet us halfway to figure out how to get the right data to the right people," he said.

Meeting halfway is not always realistic when IT and business users do not see eye to eye, but there is hope for those who start with a BI pilot.

The obstacle for Allstate Insurance Co. is similar to many when it comes to a BI strategy: Business users proclaim that they don't need help, they are happy with the analytical tools they're using and don't want to learn new ones, said Tim Acre, senior manager of BI at Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate.

Using a number of BI tools, including SAP and Oracle, the IT team at Allstate centralized customer complaints so any approved user can drill down from a dashboard to a complaint, even to the point of the complaint verbatim. Previously, the customer complaint data was put in a database and queried ad hoc.

"It was a big 'aha' for business users and IT to see how the two can work together," Acre said. "The lights went on and now [business users] are asking for new projects to the point that we need to prioritize."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, Senior News Writer.

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