Increase big data business value with a strong BI team

As big data technologies make it big, the BI and data warehousing teams that deliver insight are taking a backseat in making business decisions.

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While big data has entered the mainstream and gets airtime on network news shows, the people who manage data and deliver insights are enjoying no new celebrity or fame. In many organizations, they've become nearly invisible.

I'm talking about business intelligence and data warehousing teams. Although Hadoop and NoSQL are sexy and new, the bread and butter of big data still is -- and in many cases will always be -- served up by the BI team.

So why do so many teams today remain powerless to move BI forward? In most cases, it's a lack of vision and resources.

Most companies today view BI managers as glorified report writers. Executives consider the team a tactical resource that provides basic information required to keep the lights on. They don't see it as a strategic partner that can advise on leveraging information and innovative technologyto get closer to customers, streamline business processes or evaluate the business impact of a new initiative.

These same execs might say things like "Data is a corporate asset" and "We are a data-driven company." Of course, talk is cheap; real action is hard and usually costs money. When it comes to BI and data warehousing, most executives spend just enough to keep a program limping along but not enough to make a difference. 

So how can a BI team change this state of affairs and weave itself into the fabric of the business? Here are 10 things you can do to tweak executives' perceptions and turn BI and data warehousing from a tactical resource into a strategic asset.

1. Sell it to the business. Make a compelling case to invest. Compare your company's efforts with your top rivals'. If it's obvious the competition is gaining an advantage through BI and data warehousing, executives will get serious about bankrolling a program. 

2. Create internal competition. Show how much the company invests in other corporate assets, such as people and in buildings and equipment, compared with data and analytics. Comparing the numbers of employees in finance and human resources with those in data management and analysis jobs often drives home the need for greater investments.

3. Get an outside voice. As the Bible says, prophets are never accepted in their own countries. Executives rarely listen to the advice given by their own people. So hire a consultant to evaluate your BI program and map out a strategy to take it to the next level.

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4. Pull BI out of IT. Businesspeople will never view the BI and data warehousing team as a strategic partner if it's embedded in the IT department. So take it out -- or at least the BI portion of it. And put a businessperson in charge. The new director should steer the overall strategy and maintain strong relationships with business units and the IT department.

5. Rebrand the program. Instead of pushing BI and data warehousing, push analytics, combining BI processes with the likes of predictive analytics, data mining and -- yes -- big data analytics. Collaborate with your business analysts and advanced analytics team and get them to start petitioning for better data. Getting others to speak on your behalf is always effective, especially if they are on the business side.

6. Advocate for a chief data officer. Change comes with strong leadership, so lobby for a new role that will champion data and analytics. This is politically dicey, especially if your chief information officer feels that a CDO intrudes on his domain, which is true about half the time, according to Peter Aiken, author of The Case for the Chief Data Officer. But there are no rewards without risks. Shaking the tree will cause some fruit to drop. 

7. Throw a party (call it a conference). Hold an event with internal and external speakers who can testify to the value of data, BI and analytics. Make it invitation-only and bring in top executives from key functional areas. Get people excited about the potential for harnessing and analyzing data.

8. Jump on the bandwagon. IT is a fashion industry. Technologies get hot, get adopted and then get boring. Align your BI and data warehousing initiative with the technologies that are currently in vogue and you'll get a second look from executives. Today, push big data, analytics, visualization and mobile dashboards.

9. Do a demo. Better yet, build a prototype system that demonstrates what those new technologies can do with your company's data. If your prototype is blindingly fast, visually compelling or incredibly interactive, you'll gain converts.

10. Deliver a quick win. Take that prototype system and implement it in a showcase application to prove your team can deliver business value quickly. Once you show success, businesspeople will overwhelm you with requests to partner with them.

Today, with data the fuel of the new economy, there is no reason BI and data warehousing teams should work in the backwaters of the IT department. BI directors need to take center stage and provide the vision and energy to move their organizations into the information age.

This was first published in August 2013

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