Opinion: Think Big, Build Small: The BI Roadmap

Erwin Bisschops gives us his views on how Business intelligence should operate

August 17, 2011

By Erwin Bisschops and iSPartners

Celebrated novelist John Irving always starts his stories with the last sentence and then works his way backwards. Erwin Bisschops, principal lead in business intelligence at iSPartners, says it’s an approach that business intelligence (BI) professionals would do well to emulate when it comes to creating a BI roadmap.

“Change is one of the few certainties in life,” he says. “Your BI environment, whether you have a greenfield solution or you have just celebrated its five-year anniversary, is no different. Just think of changing stakeholder requirements, the implementation of that new ERP system, the possibilities of Microsoft SQL Server 2011 (codenamed Denali), or the impact of King III, to name a few. The impact of these and other elements can be mitigated with a BI roadmap, provided you begin with the desired goal in mind and work your way back to the present.

Where to begin

The main goal of any BI environment is to maximise ROI. When dealt with incorrectly, change poses a threat, but when tackled pro-actively, it creates opportunities. A BI roadmap will help you to deal with change and make the most of your BI environment.

A crucial part of the roadmap is determining the desired state of the BI environment. “To gain the necessary insight, you have to record high-level business requirements and carry out advanced source analysis,” says Bisschops. “You also have to ensure you understand the various KPIs and drivers per information area. Only then should you investigate systems to determine if your requirements can be met.”

Assessing the current state and determining the desired state will provide input to your BI strategy, enabling your organisation to bridge the gap between the two states. The BI strategy typically consists of four elements:

·      Conceptual view – What are the strategic objectives?

·      Data architecture – What data components are required to achieve the conceptual view?

·      Technical architecture – What is the required infrastructure and what tool sets will be used?

·      Implementation view – How do we build and maintain the environment?


The implementation view

An important part of the implementation view is the so-called plateau approach, which enables the organisation to deliver BI in relatively short intervals of one to two months. Bisschops says this approach has several advantages:

·      Focus is maintained. Contributors see tangible results of their input in a short time period.

·      End-user commitment is maintained. End-users are more willing to contribute to a process which will benefit them in the short-term.

·      Issues are addressed effectively. Any potential issues that may arise are known after a short period of time and can be avoided in the rest of the implementation.

·      Quick ROI. Sponsors see the benefits of BI. They get value for money quickly and BI starts to sell itself.

·      Requirement changes are avoided. The changing nature of BI can be dealt with more effectively in smaller sub-sections of work delivered every few months rather than in an all-encompassing implementation.

How to build a roadmap

“BI should always be business – not technology – driven,” he says. “Big-bang exercises have long been deemed a recipe for disaster. Instead, it’s advisable to grow your BI environment iteratively, focusing on business requirements one at a time. Each iteration must be driven by specific requirements, while being guided by the long-term vision of the BI strategy formulated in the BI roadmap.”

It’s crucial to rate various initiatives in terms of business impact and feasibility in a prioritisation matrix. “Business impact is generally determined by ROI, potential cost savings or strategic significance,” Bisschops says. “Feasibility is determined by data availability, perceived ease of implementation, and resource availability and experience.”

Typically, initiatives like product- or client-profitability are top of the list. Rather begin with an organisational discussion to determine how indirect costs should be allocated. While you implement goals which are easily achievable (the high business impact and high feasibility initiatives), a parallel stream should be started to facilitate the organisational discussion and thus make it easier to implement the more challenging requirements six months ahead.

One of the biggest pitfalls in defining a BI roadmap is to treat this process as a once-off deliverable. In fact, it’s an ongoing iterative process that begins with assessing the current state, determining the desired state, defining initiatives to bridge the gap, implementing those initiatives, and then starting all over again. That’s why your overarching plan should include a review of the roadmap at least after each plateau.

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