Business Intelligence (BI) has long been acclaimed as a technology which is vital to the success of the enterprise. Performance Management (PM) has also become increasingly important as a measure of efficiency, effectiveness and productivity. The usefulness of these BI tools has been limited somewhat, by silos of information that tend to exist within organisations. The Business Intelligence Competency Centre (BICC) emerged as a way of dealing with these silos and improving operational efficiency in the development and delivery of BI projects, but as this tool has matured it has become clear that efficiency is only a starting point, and the BICC can in fact evolve to play a role in devising smarter, more agile business decisions.
In order for BI and PM tools to provide the data needed by executives in the right format at the right time, it is vital to break down silos of information and areas where BI and PM are not connected across the organisation. This enables business decisions to be made based on information from across the enterprise, and not simply pockets of data that exist within certain business units.
“While breaking down silos and providing a single version of the truth of information across organisations is important for improving operational efficiency, it is often difficult to achieve. The BICC, a knowledge centre for BI and PM that enables consistent reuse of BI skills, knowledge and technology across the organisation and can provide a centralised or virtual governance capability over the repository for corporate data, has become a vital component in achieving this aim,” says Greg Bogiages, Director at Cortell Corporate Performance Management.
The concept of the BICC is not new, as the phrase was coined by Gartner more than eight years ago, but the need for a centre of excellence to deliver performance improvement across organisations has become ever clearer over the years. BICCs help organisations to develop and deliver processes and procedures that align people with technology, creating standards and best practices for use across the organisation as well as assisting with skills development and skills transfer for better business continuity. This aids in dramatically improving operational and process efficiency and business decision making within the organisation.
The BICC is also useful in drawing together various BI projects from across the organisation, creating greater consistency and standardisation for more intelligent and cost effective use of resources and information. However, the BICC is about so much more than simply improving the efficiency and cost effectiveness of BI, and when taken to the next level it can move organisations from reactive, rear-view information gathering and decision making into proactive, predictive analytical forecasting which enables ever more agile, intelligent and strategic operations.
“From the perspective of the evolution of BI and PM, we typically find that organisations operate from one of three maturity levels. The first level is the organisation that still has siloed means of delivering information into the BI system, with multiple sources of data delivering multiple versions of the truth and duplicated data. The second level has implemented the BICC to enable delivery of information across siloes and improve operational processes, delivering accurate retrospective information from which to base decisions,” says Graham Cobb, European Industry Leader for Banking and Financial Markets – Business Analytics at IBM.
“The third level has only begun to emerge in the last year and a half to two years. Organisations with mature BICCs are able to deliver not just the rear-view information but are also able to examine performance going forward and predict what will happen to the business in the future. The third level is also beginning to use real-time information to make decisions in a more agile manner, to enable business analytics to be used to improve processes, customer relationships, supply chains and so on as changes happen and to allow for more effective planning in the future,” he adds.
At present the main driver for the implementation of a BICC is to improve the efficiency of processes and to place the right level and detail of information into the right hands at the right time throughout the organisation. But as the technology matures, organisations are increasingly beginning to realise that the BICC can be a strategic asset to the organisation and actually help to drive strategy through to execution in a proactive manner. By also leveraging the power of predictive analytics, performance can be dramatically improved, the results of which can then be fed back into the strategic planning process to enable smarter decisions to be made.
“BICCs can evolve to the point they actually advise on the feasibility and predicted success of proposed strategies based on historic data and predictive analytics. In this way the BICC can be used to bridge the traditional and ever present gap between business and IT, driving BI as a strategic asset rather than just a reactive audit of past performance. However, this remains an emerging trend, and the basis for this is still improved operational efficiency using the BICC,” Bogiages adds.
Establishing a BICC can take different routes. Occasionally a certain area of a business will attempt to grow one organically from the bottom up, in the hopes that the best practices will spread to the rest of the organisation or simply to meet the needs of a particular line of business, however this is a slow process because buy-in can take a very long time if it happens at all.
“A far more successful and proven best practice route is to have an executive sponsor from the outset, who will commit to establishing the BICC across the enterprise and ensure standardisation of BI. This executive buy-in is essential in ensuring that IT and business work closely together to deliver the appropriate technology to meet the needs of the business as a whole, and in ensuring that the BICC is not thought of as a project, but as an on-going capability that needs to develop and evolve with the business. A strategic roadmap is an important element of this, but delivering quick wins to create widespread buy-in with a vision towards the future and where the BICC can take the business, The key is to thinking strategically and acting tactically and is seen as a best practice that delivers” says Cobb.
Leveraging the skills and experience of a BI and PM partner is also important in ensuring that the BICC has been established correctly in order to deliver maximum benefit and returns. A specialist partner with the competency and skills required can help to deliver a BI strategy that will underpin the entire organisation. This will ensure that the BICC can grow into a larger, more strategic role than simply that of improving operational efficiency and prevent the BICC from slipping into the shared services model that will only serve to increase the gap between business and IT over time.
“However as previously mentioned, executive buy-in is vital in ensuring success, since the entire culture of the organisation needs to support the BI processes and the BICC needs to become an on-going, constantly evolving capability that adapts to meet the changing needs of the business,” Bogiages adds.
While the BICC is far more prevalent in Europe and across the United States, there remains huge opportunity in the market and there is great potential in the South African business space. BICC initiatives do exist in the country, mainly within the banking and financial services sector, but they have not yet reached their full potential. The BICC has a far wider application in the local market, and if maturity of these centres can be driven, they could deliver enormous strategic and predictive analytical benefits.