Consolidating BI Systems and Reporting

February 28, 2018 | Data Management

Topics discussed in this blog:

Increasing BI Challenges

According to Gartner, BI Systems are for more than a decade the number one priority of IT priorities and investments where “Sixty-four percent of CIOs at top-performing organizations are very or extremely involved in their enterprise’s BI/analytics activities”.

The other survey from BARC reveals the top challenges companies face during the implementation, maintaining or developing, and upgrading their BI systems. 

Many companies have been using Business Intelligence in their daily decision process for years, some even decades, and are now certainly on different levels of analytics maturity and self-service BI maturity according to TDWI. 

It is quite common that organizations already face one or more of issues related to:

multiple BI platforms

Companies nowadays are facing multiple BI solutions, although some of them are not even aware of that. After that plenty of new platforms on the market arose which found a place in the companies. Subsequently they are again facing fragmented, siloed information, and analysis and reporting on these is becoming more and more difficult and prone to errors which increases the cost and risk of internal or external noncompliance. A recent Forrester Research study reveals that almost 80% of companies use three or more business intelligence (BI) products.

overwhelming set of BI reports

Another challenge for companies represents the sheer number of reports. On average, between 20,000 to 50,000 reports are in use. Think that’s quite an accomplishment? Think again. Having that many reports creates significant usability and cost issues. Some organizations have a separate report for each and every question a user may have. However in spite of all these available BI assets, users feel like they are report rich, but information poor. It is almost impossible to remember which reports contain the answers to which questions

multiple separate silos within a single departmental BI platform

Even if companies standardized their BI in just one platform, they can face data silos. The risk of that is especially high when corporations standardize BI and reporting with departmental BI solutions.

lack of business communication standards

All too often, reports fall somewhere between messy spreadsheets and dashboards, full of poorly labeled and inappropriate charts, that simply do not get the message across to the decision-makers.
Organizations create countless reports and presentations on a daily basis. They are in all different formats, lengths, shapes and colors, depending on preferences of the person who prepares them. It ends up in poor presentation of the data which is hard to read and wastes time.

It is therefore very important for organizations to consider consolidating BI, reporting, and communication standards otherwise there can be negative impact on business judgment due to inconsistent information, and much higher total cost of ownership (TCO) for BI tools than is necessary.

Red flags

There are several warning indicators signaling that your company is also one of the many using multiple business intelligence (BI) tools for reporting and analysis throughout your enterprise that are more or less obvious.

The “Red flags” include:
  • Business people use spreadsheets to adjust the numbers to be correct in their own reports.
  • Business people debating the correct numbers coming from different reports.
  • Data shadow systems or spreadmarts built to support reporting and analysis for entire business groups-
  • Multiple pockets of IT resources developing, deploying, maintaining, upgrading, and growing skills in different BI tools.
  • Debates what data, metrics, and algorithms should be used for particular reports.
  • Long delays in creating or modifying BI applications.
  • Redundant or conflicting efforts.
  • Overlapping hardware and infrastructure.
  • The inability to develop deep BI skills.
  • Business users spending more of their time gathering data than analyzing information.
  • Information quality compromised by inconsistent implementation of business metrics, rules and transformations.
  • Different standards are used to represent data, metrics, and algorithms in the reports.

BI environment assessment

If you are experiencing any of these red flags, then you should conduct a BI (reporting and analytics) survey of your enterprise or a more formal BI assessment. In fact, you should do this even if you do not think you have any of the above listed red flags. Chances are you do and you will find them during the assessment. Often, because of implementation of BI projects in a tactical fashion in different departments or because applications include bundled BI tools. The enterprise can’t solve these problems, because they are not visible to them, so you may be surprised at the number of them.

In order to determine what is the health of your BI system, start with your corporate IT group. They will have a list, and may actually be the support team, for a block of BI reporting and analysis. It is also likely that they are aware of some of the red flags because they were asked at one time or another to provide data or assistance for various departmental BI related problems.

However, do not rely solely on the corporate IT group, but reach out to the various business organizational groups or business processes to discover what is their experience with reporting and analysis. If they are using various applications, determine how businesspeople get their reporting or analysis done. Go beyond traditional BI tools, and figure out where the data shadow systems are, who uses them, and what information is processed.

The best practice is to assess the impact of each BI application. This assessment needs to include: 
  • the number of users and their titles; 
  • the type of analysis performed; 
  • the type of data that’s used and 
  • list of business critical reports and analysis
  • how long the application has been in use. 

On the corporate level, the matrix of all overlapping reports and applications should be prepared.

Once you have completed an enterprise BI survey, you are in a position to understand the extent, effectiveness, costs and benefits associated with each pocket of BI tool usage. You need to treat the BI applications as an entire BI portfolio to honestly appraise your results from an enterprise perspective.

Existing or New BI Portfolio

An examination of the BI portfolio helps determine what is worth considering and what to leave alone. Most corporations do not have the resources or time to migrate all applications to one standard BI platform, so it’s worth weeding out those applications that are not significant enough to demand further attention. Applications with only a small set of users that do not change much or do not support an “important” business process may be left as legacy applications.

After the preliminary selection, consider the remaining BI applications part of your enterprise BI portfolio and review them in further detail to determine the transition or migration costs. Calculate the enterprise TCO and migration costs to determine the viability and ROI from a BI consolidation project. Although it’s difficult to quantify, it’s essential that the cost/benefit impacts of data consistency, business/IT productivity and governmental/industry compliance be a part of these calculations.

A high-level plan of action for BI consolidation:
  • Make a preliminary survey of existing BI tools and applications.
  • Select BI applications that may be eligible to migrate off older systems.
  • Make a detailed assessment of selected BI applications to determine tasks and calculate cost/benefit analysis of potential migration.
  • Determine business and technical requirements for an enterprise-wide BI tool. Use Gartner Critical Capabilities for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms document for this task 
  • Establish the criteria for the selection of a BI tool and create a BI tool short-list. Very helpful source of information is BARC: Business Intelligence Vendors and Products
  • Evaluate BI tools and select two for proof-of-concept (POC) or prototype. There will be a lot of politics involved in selecting these tools. Often the POC is the only way to settle the argument since the “losing” side will not accept an evaluation checklist.
  • Perform POC with selected BI application, data and business users.
  • Evaluate the POC and make a selection.
  • Acquire, install and set up the BI environment.
  • Develop a migration program and perform migration projects.
  • Establish business user training.
  • Start using new BI application and shut down old ones (otherwise business users will still use old ones).

Reduce the Number of Reports

Limited success will be achieved if old BI tools will be just replaced with new ones. It is equally important to reduce the number of reports and implement communications standards at the same time.

The number of reports can be efficiently and effectively reduced by promoting analytical applications, condensed dashboards and mobile applications developed for analyzing individual business areas or departments. Such an approach will reduce the number of required reports from 10-50 times and on the other hand, make the information much more useful in daily decision processes.

Implement Business Communications Standards (IBCS)

Developing new analytical applications and reporting is an ideal opportunity to apply business communications standards to enhance business value of the solution and streamline understanding of the analyzed data and make better business decisions. Several standards for business communications are available, but the most comprehensive one is IBCS® (The International Business Communication Standards) developed by Dr.Rolf Hichert.

IBCS are practical proposals for the design of reports, presentations, dashboards and the diagrams and tables contained therein. This involves the conception of the content, the visual perception and the semantic unification.

Three pillars of IBCS:

  • Conceptual rules – how to organize your content so that it gets your message across.
  • Perceptual rules – which visualizations to use in any given case.
  • Semantic rules – introduce the IBCS notation. This is the actual standardization of business communication. It covers the unification of all important and frequently used aspects of business communication: terminology, descriptions, dimensions, analyses, and indicators.

No Pain no Gain

And of course, it is the execution that’s the tough part, not formulating the plan. Technology is easy however, people make it hard.

We wish we could say that BI consolidation is quick and easy, but that is not the case. There are ample reasons to embark on a BI consolidation program, but organizations that do so will face cultural and political obstacles. Moving from the “Wild West” of BI tool silos to a rationalized BI portfolio requires compromise and change, but the overall benefits to the enterprise must be the primary business driver.

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