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I’m a fortunate guy. For the 3rd time in two weeks I’m looking at a program plan for one of my (big) clients and they are asking me (the guy from the wrong side of the tracks I might add) if it makes any sense. And for the third time in a row, it does. Why? It is almost an exact copy of the previous two program plans I saw the weeks before.

Big companies are struggling with the same challenges. They basically went through the same life cycle: introducing ERP as the core for their operational processes, the introduction of a multitude of different data warehouses (often inherited from an acquisition or two), created stove pipes (architecture was not that popular some years ago) and now they have DWHs which need to overcome the challenges of a failing economy, in short: cost need to go down. Cost is one thing these companies worry about. The other components are often performance related, the time to information being to long, the “business” taking matters in there own hand any buying easy-entry BI tools (you know who they are) and reliability of data being poor. Those are quite some challenges. Honestly, I love them, because I often have a pretty good approach on getting the answers for them: optimizing the DWH, allowing “other” BI tools in a controlled way, while showing the advantages of controlled data, getting data lineage and reconciliation in place, adding master data management and governance, … well you get it, basically all those things that make a difference now but were lacking back then due to lack of control, time, architecture and quite frankly, to much money to worry.  Times have changed.

But then after taking a long sip from my morning coffee, I find in program plan xyz, that one element which makes life truly difficult, the one question to rule them all: the need to ask the “business” what information they really need to increase their bottom line, spend efficiency, controls,… well, fill in whatever you like.

And with that ladies and gentlemen, life becomes complicated for me.

That last element in any BI program plan deals with something fundamental. It all boils down to the one question to rule them all: “how can I ask my business what they want, if they don’t know what the future question will be”.

Consulting just turned into an Olympic sport again.

As you might have guessed by now, I don’t have an answer. I truly don’t. What I do have is my top 10 on approaches and their pros and cons. I put them in a neatly formatted table. I dare you to read them, mock them and criticize them, but do that for one reason and one reason only: lets get an answer to that universal question.

Approach

Pro

Con

1. Just give them all information they will ever need approach

Well, they got it all, how can you go wrong

There are dozens off reasons. There is no moment in time when you can catch all information. Information is moving. Giving raw data to an end-user and hoping that they will make sense out of it is a recipe for multiple version of truth and interpretations

2. Self-service BI approach

Users will be able to make there own reports and calculations. Decreasing time to information

And then what. Most likely you are still delivering sub-optimal data. You just re-placed your problem where it shouldn’t be: at your (internal) customers desk

3. Lets get a strategic advisor approach

Often a valuable approach, focused workshops, combined energy, benchmarking against your peers, post-its!

Expensive, takes an awful lot of throughput time, often discussed what is important now and not what is important in two years time: how would you know…)

4. Lets write down all our KPIs approach

You could get some type of idea on your KPIs (if they are not in the 100s which is (remarkable enough) often the case

Most likely you will end up with two many of them. Each of your business units will come with a list with what is important to them. Try to get consensus out of that

5. The consolidate and hide approach

This is a version of the “Lets write down all of our KPIs”. You basically define some high level measure in which you roll up your business unit specific measures.  You have a consolidated view! Well, sort off.

High-level measures…. Those are kind of, well high level. Not giving the insights you often need. Think margin information without knowing if freight or insurance gave a decreased margin.

6. Lets just start approach (aka agile development)

Your making traction fast. Using agile as a methodology, will give you a working demo in no time

Eventhough your gut will tell you differently,  this is actually not a bad approach. BI solutions often mature into a desired end-state. Now do bring enough money, courage and time

7. The royal approach

Writing down your CEOs strategy, translating that in measures and KPIs, make them actionable, make people responsible for them, put a bonus schema in place, get the strategy down into the organization up to the level of operational KPIs.  Keep communicating the strategy into all levels of the organization. It will stick, eventually…

It is the royal approach. The grand daddy of EPM, however KPIs have a tendency of dealing with information often not stored in BI systems or even operational systems. Whole workforces of people are mobilized to fill them every month. Hardly a way of getting into BI/operational excellence

8. The pain approach

The pain approach is all about telling your users what they don’t have at the moment (real time insights in sales figures, margin information, liquidity analysis which falls behind…). Telling them what they don’t have might trigger what they actually need

I kind of like this approach because at least it makes people think out of the box.

Knowing that you don’t have insights and your peers do, will give a whole new dynamic to the discussion

9. The outside in approach

What better way then comparing yourself to your peers and getting that industry specific KPI and benchmark figure. If we outperform the benchmark, how could we not make more money?

Its your competitor. I repeat, its your competitor. Now how reliable is that benchmark figure. Who came up with the calculation? Do you really want your information requirements to be steered by an outside company (I repeat, your competitor)

10. The collect and conquer approach

I saved our most used approach for last. Here we go: collect all current reports, find commonalities, define the “ iron core” reporting set, bombard everything else to ad-hoc reporting (enter self-service BI)

This is the ultimate plaster. You managed to define a harmonized set of reporting, but be sure to know, that you will be back to the universal questions in no time. Your looking at the companies status quo!

Sorry guys and galls, no silver bullet. Looking forward to the comments!

Thank you for reading and take care,

Ronald

Disclaimer

  • Any resemblance to existing customers is purely coincidental 😉
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4 Comments

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  1. P. Bouwmeester

    Hi Ronald,

    Great post!

    Just wanted to add…..Any one will fail without agility of
    organization and architecture ….and…. one approach will not fit to answer all BI challenges.

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  2. Raf Boudewijns

    Almost two years after you wrote this, I finally got to read it.

    Well, to be honest I’ve been mainly experience approaches 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 & a variant of 10 in my BW/BI career and in many cases I am/was the “party pooper” that comes/came up with approach 8. The variant of approach 10 I experienced, is when they “move” their current reporting tools towards SAP BW (BEx front end – this was quite a while ago actually), because “they have to”?! I once received (litteraly) a printout of a report and had to “copy” it exactly into BEx and they didn’t even bother to explain all the (French) abbreviations which were the column headers. It took me a couple of days to convince them that wasn’t going to fly. First of all, they should be able to explain what that report was showing (well they couldn’t, even though they were “business analysts” according to their business cards).They got as far as “deciphering” the abbreviations. Anyways, in the end I managed to give them something similar (but not exactly the same) and in addition I gave them a version which they could use to “analyze” the data (instead of just sending/delivering printouts to their managers).

    Personally, I feel that if you go for approach 8 and explain why certain information cannot be delivered, you have a good chance of indeed coming up with “the next best thing”.

    As a basis, you should have a “business” who really knows what they want to measure and why. Ideally they also know how & where that information is being stored and the ultimate is that they understand the restrictions in combining certain information.

    Anyways, nice blog post!

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    1. Ronald Konijnenburg Post author

      Tx for the comment Raf! Thoroughly enjoyed reading your anecdotes. Together us BI guys will make the world a better place, one BEx (mean step 🙂 ) at a time.

      Ronald.

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    2. M Tibollo

      couldn’t agree more:

      As a basis, you should have a “business” who really knows what they want to measure and why. Ideally they also know how & where that information is being stored and the ultimate is that they understand the restrictions in combining certain information.

      The better they know their business, the less important the choice between the approaches becomes.

      M.

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