Implementing Business Intelligence Standards: Save Money and Improve Business Insight

At the end of last year, I wrote a white paper on implementing business intelligence standards – here’s a blog post that adapts the context (the full white paper is available as a download at the bottom of the post)

Executive Summary: Business Intelligence, Essential in a Tough Economic Climate

Citing business intelligence (BI) as a strategic technology, analyst firm Gartner observes, “BI can have a direct positive impact on a company’s business performance, dramatically improving its ability to accomplish its mission by making smarter decisions at every level of the business from corporate strategy to operational processes.”

BI continues to be one of the top tech­nology spending priorities in today’s tough economic conditions. Why? Because BI projects:

  • Leverage existing information investments
  • Are relatively low cost and low risk
  • Deliver proven high return on invest­ment (ROI)

However, few organizations today have a comprehensive enterprise BI strategy or clearly defined BI standards. They face a patchwork of disparate BI tech­nologies, which can lead to:

  • Redundant costs in deployment, maintenance, and training
  • Increased information inconsistencies
  • Frustrated employees who cannot get timely answers to their business questions

Rationalizing the number of BI stan­dards in your organization can result in significant cost savings, greater control over information, and better alignment with your business users. This all leads to increased competitive advantage by fully exploiting the benefits of enterprise BI, and laying the foundations for enter­prise performance optimization.

But implementing BI standards requires a pragmatic, phased approach that takes into account the organizational realities of large organizations, and the business value of existing BI applica­tions.This post gives an overview of the advantages of implementing BI standards, and takes a look at some of the real-life, best practice techniques used by industry leaders. Read on to learn how successful organizations have standardized on business intelligence – and why you should join them.

A Business Intelligence Strategy is Key to Success

Despite the importance of BI, Gartner predicts, “Through 2012, more than 35% of the top 5,000 global companies will regularly fail to make insightful deci­sions about significant changes in their business and markets.”

For BI to be successful, information and analysis must be actionable. Your associated decisions must have an effect on performance that is in line with the objectives and strategic plans for your organization. To turn informa­tion into real business change, your enterprise BI strategy must answers questions such as:

  • What performance metrics have the highest impact on your business strategy and objectives?
  • Which people and processes have the highest impact on achieving your business objectives?
  • What applications and BI technolo­gies do these people need to deliver the highest impact on your business objectives?
  • What information has the highest impact on your business objectives?

In order to succeed in enterprise BI, you need to consider all facets of your information environment for a holistic view.

Information Strategy

For starters, your BI strategy should take into account all sources of data used for business decisions: operational systems, departmental data marts, key spreadsheets, and unstructured data stored in text files, Web pages, and other corporate systems. Data sources should include not only internal systems, but also information stored in the systems of your customers, part­ners, and suppliers, and in the greater “cloud” of data that is accessible through the Internet.

An enterprise data warehouse is a central pillar of any BI strategy. You must constantly strive to integrate information from your diverse opera­tional systems, make it consistent, and optimize it for analysis. Your enter­prise data warehouse should be a key active part of operational processes, helping deliver the information you need to optimize every action of your daily business.

Still, an enterprise data warehouse can never store all the information that people may need; you also need a flexible BI solution. Your BI solution should enable people to access and integrate information as needed, from multiple different data sources.

User Strategy

Information is irrelevant until people use it to change something in the way the business operates. Your BI strategy should examine who needs which infor­mation, from which systems, and how they need to interact with it. The goal is to ensure that all people and processes have the information they need, when they need it, in order to fulfill their roles.

Each person will typically have multiple different “information use profiles.” For example, a sales manager may need to review high-level strategy, track key performance indicators, analyze sales data, and review information from oper­ational systems. Each of these interac­tions will require a different interface and approach. The key to successful BI is to bring information to the users as seamlessly as possible, as part of their daily business.

You should plan to embed information access into every standard process, especially in areas that rely heavily on data analysis and evaluation, such as financial budgeting and planning, and governance, risk, and compliance systems.

Organizational Strategy

Your strategy should also consider the organization and processes that are required to ensure information is managed as a corporate asset. For example, you must determine which group will be responsible for realizing the value of an information asset. How should the group be staffed and financed? And what governance is required to set priorities and align infor­mation use with the overall strategy of the organization?

The Importance of BI Rationalization

Having multiple, disparate data ware­housing and BI solutions clearly makes it much harder to take a strategic approach to corporate information use. An essential part of a successful BI strategy involves implementing BI stan­dards and rationalizing your existing BI tools. Since most large organizations have already implemented standards for their business application environ­ments, BI rationalization is the next big opportunity for organizations to stream­line costs and get a greater return on their information assets.

Standardizing on BI software delivers the same economies of scale as other standardization efforts. In addition, a cross-organization BI infrastructure can provide exponential returns through better business insights that traverse your entire organization.

Rather than focusing on redundant skill sets, integration points, and project requirement analyses, implementing BI standards allows your organization to focus its energy on how to better use information and capture best practices. The results are new revenue opportuni­ties, improved cost visibility, and better risk management.

Lower Costs

Reducing the number of supported BI tools in your organization can result in:

  • Lower software costs through more coordinated purchasing and contracts
  • Lower support and administration costs
  • Less time and money spent on BI evaluations
  • Lower user training costs
  • Faster ROI for BI projects

More Control and Better Quality Data

With fewer standard systems for accessing business information, your organization can obtain:

  • More reliable data for decision makers
  • Easier comparison of information across different departments, for one version of the truth
  • Easier sharing of consistent informa­tion between different user groups, and with customers, partners, and suppliers
  • More coordinated security, to mini­mize unauthorized data access

Better Alignment with Business Needs

BI is often an area of friction between IT (who provides information) and busi­ness people (who need the information to do their jobs). By allowing you to connect goals, metrics, and people across the enterprise, an enterprise BI strategy can help your organization to manage and optimize information flows like other business processes, leading to improved alignment, transparency, and performance.

In particular, a standard interface for information access gives:

  • More timely answers to business questions
  • Easier cross-data analysis to reveal new revenue opportunities
  • Improved cost visibility
  • Better risk management
  • Increased competitive advantage by better exploitation of the benefits of enterprise BI

A Foundation for Performance Optimization

An organization-wide infrastructure provides a foundation that helps you ensure all users have the data they need to make decisions. You can then leverage that foundation to optimize your business processes within your organization and across your extended ecosystem of customers, partners, and suppliers, in areas such as:

  • Financial performance management
  • Operational performance management
  • Strategy management
  • Governance, risk, and compliance

The Practical Implementation of BI Standards

Although many organizations are already convinced of the benefits of standardization, they are unsure how to turn that conviction into reality. Simply declaring a particular set of products as “the standard” or signing an enterprise agreement won’t deliver all the benefits that you’re looking for. Based on the collective wisdom of customer and ana­lyst research, there are a number of recommended steps you can take to introduce a BI strategy and effective BI standards within your organization.

Review the Current Environment

  • Perform an audit of existing BI proj­ects. Spend time with business peo­ple to understand what information and systems they are using today, and why it is important to the busi­ness goals. You are almost certain to find examples of areas that could benefit from a more strategic approach to BI. In the case of large organizations with decentralized sys­tems, your vendors may be a useful resource to help you find existing deployments around the globe.
  • Based on your research, and in conjunction with your new business contacts, create a written BI strategy document that lays out the costs and benefits, and outlines concrete steps towards a more strategic approach.

Rationalize BI Deployments

Your BI strategy should include prag­matic steps to reduce the costs of BI fragmentation:

  • Define a standard set of non-overlap­ping tools for the BI needs of the organization. The criteria used to make the choices should be explicit, firmly grounded in the business needs of the organization, and agreed upon by the key business users of BI.
  • Start enforcing the standard. It is essential that the BI strategy include mechanisms such as veto rights over nonstandard projects and budget incentives to use approved products.

Build a Long-Term Business Intelligence Strategy

To ensure that you receive the full ben­efit of BI, and to avoid the degeneration of your chosen standards, it is essen­tial to have a long-term BI strategy – including a BI competency center (BICC) and BI governance.

Regardless of which functional area it reports to, your BICC should be con­sidered primarily a business initiative, working closely with the infrastructure teams and other departments. The BICC is responsible for:

  • Optimizing the value of your informa­tion assets, by developing and sharing BI best practices throughout an organization.
  • Aligning BI initiatives around a frame­work: how BI should map to the tech­nical, functional, organizational, and business needs of the organization.
  • Implementing a formal BI methodology to ensure that BI projects bring the promised benefits. It should detail the roles of different groups (IT, business users, technical support, and so on), and cover both the technical and user-oriented phases of the project.
  • Creating an acquisition and deploy­ment process for new projects. The competency center must be financed. Care should be taken so that it does so in a way that does not reduce the incentives to business use of BI.

Managing Change

Failure to manage and take responsibility for the business changes that result from BI implementations is the biggest cause of failure of strategic BI plans. This can be avoided with the following steps:

  • Monitor and communicate the strate­gic plan. Organizations should con­stantly evangelize the benefits of BI and of having BI standards.
  • Avoid common BI project challenges. Many project problems can be pre­dicted in advance, and can instead be turned into communication opportunities.
  • Implement BI governance. Bring together key executives, project champions, and other stakeholders from different business units for reg­ular meetings. Use the meetings to align the work of the BICC with the overall strategy of the organization, and overcome any organizational barriers to change.

BI Standardization Case Studies

The following organizations are selected examples of companies in various industries that have implemented stra­tegic BI plans.


One of the largest U.S. insurance orga­nizations, with over 40,000 employees, had grown through acquisitions, and each business unit had retained responsibility for BI projects within its area. The decentralized operations made it hard for senior management to get a global overview of operations. To position for the future, the company decided to standardize its information systems at a corporate level and to implement a new enterprise data ware­house. In addition, the com­pany established a BICC to manage its overall BI strategy, to rationalize sys­tems, eliminate duplicate information, and have more control over metadata.

The BICC was staffed using resources from the previously fragmented man­agement reporting systems. Charged with consolidating existing BI software deployments, the BICC chose the a single platform for both operational and analyt­ical projects across the company. The BICC has focused on simplification, compliance and security, and BI gover­nance. The group spends time ensuring that different business units, with many different points of view, all understand and buy into the high-level BI strategy.

The company believes that it has reduced the cost of purchasing and deploying BI applications by up to 25%, resulting in annual savings of several million dollars. In addition, the IT organi­zation is more easily able to support the rising demand for access and analysis of data from the company’s applications from various different vendors. A common set of business rules and metadata definitions are now used across the organization.

Key success factors for this insurance company’s BI initiative included execu­tive sponsorship, the ability to enforce central standards, and knowledge of the businesses served. By standardizing their BI solutions, the company has reduced the risk of data quality and integrity issues, con­flicting reports, and inaccurate mea­surements of critical business metrics.


A large European pharmaceutical com­pany faced widespread dissatisfaction with its existing performance reporting capabilities. Reporting systems were specific to each functional area, and functions were unwilling to share data. It took too long to generate an integrated set of numbers. A reliance on spreadsheets had led to errors and risk exposure. New functional systems were being proposed that would increase BI fragmentation and complexity.

The company decided to develop a new system to support a strategic initiative of improving business effectiveness and efficiency. The aim was to improve productivity by standardizing data access across the organization, reduc­ing the risk of wrong decisions, and supporting faster decision-making.

Sponsored by executives from the company’s finance group, the project was overseen by a BI competency cen­ter. A shared IT service provided the underlying technical infrastructure. The solution consists of a central enterprise data warehouse with different “report­ing suites,” which are made available to different functional and operational areas. A “design authority” team provides governance for the solution. Chaired by the executive sponsor, the design authority brings together busi­ness and technical leaders every two weeks to review projects at critical design points and sponsor improve­ment projects.

The new system replaced over 12 different legacy systems, resulting in considerable cost savings. In addi­tion, confidence in the data increased, performance management is more effective because there is now one set of numbers, risk is reduced, and there is more agility to start up new projects quickly.

Key success factors included business leadership of the project, keeping the design flexible in response to evolving needs, and an emphasis on good infor­mation management to provide a stable foundation for more advanced systems.

Railway Network

The 35,000 employees in this organization are responsible for a railway network that carries over 1 billion passengers a year. Historically, the organization took a very fragment­ed approach to management reporting. As part of a long-term project to improve efficiency and lower costs, the company created a new team to help implement an information architecture across the organization.

The team carried out a detailed audit of business information use that revealed dozens of homegrown, fragmented, spreadsheet-based, manually operated systems, and suboptimal use of system resources. This information was used to create a formal BI strategy document that outlined the long-term vision and processes to be put in place.

The BI strategy included the implemen­tation of standard processes and tools, and the consoli­dation of duplicated resources; for example, a reduction in the number of data warehouses within the organization.

A carrot-and-stick approach was taken to encourage cooperation with the new strategy: the team retained veto rights over new BI implementations, and finan­cial incentives were given for projects that used the corporate standards, backed by enterprise agreements negotiated with major suppliers.

Like all other organizations, data quality is an ongoing challenge, especially because some source systems are owned by other organiza­tions; information must be shared with customers and partners; and because the data is subject to regulatory compli­ance. Cross-functional data specialist teams have been created to ensure a coordinated technical and business process response.

Projects are currently governed by a project coordination group called the design authority. Over time, it is hoped that this group will become a fully-fledged BICC, with a focus on data architecture, people, and process.


BI is the number-one priority for today’s CIOs. Implementing BI successfully requires a strategic approach to BI that includes implementing BI standards.

Rationalizing the number of BI tools in your organization can result in cost savings, more control over information, and better alignment with your busi­ness goals – and increased competitive advantage by fully exploiting the bene­fits of enterprise BI.






5 responses to “Implementing Business Intelligence Standards: Save Money and Improve Business Insight”

  1. […] In his blog, Timo Elliott underscores that BI accelerates business performance because it’s relati…. […]

  2. mithu Avatar

    Tim I cant download the PDF. it says it can not contact the server.. where else can i dl the pdf?

    1. Timo Elliott Avatar

      Mithu, I think it’s a server problem — retrying should work… I’ll find the file and upload it separately…

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