In this day of big data, predictive and prescriptive modeling, data science, and many other hot topics, a surprising amount of companies are still struggling with the old mantra of business intelligence – getting the right information to the right person at the right time. The “right information” and “right person” aspects are often somewhat under control, but the “right time” is often severely lacking. It is not uncommon for business users to have to wait for several months for simple changes to reports (at which point, you could really question the “right information” aspect as well, since needs may well have changed during that time period)!
A turnaround time measured in months is simply not acceptable. Whatever function is responsible for the delivery of reporting and analysis should really ask themselves why it has to take so long. Most likely, the answer will be: structure. Of course, technology and capability restrictions typically play a role as well when it comes to delivery times, but release cycles, meetings, architecture councils and other control instances, decision points, and the always prolific sending of emails back and forth, often seem to be where the most time is spent. Time that perhaps could be better utilized?
Set higher goals
I am not, however, suggesting IT should streamline current processes to shave off a week or a month. The question should be: How can we do it in a day? “Impossible!” you might say, but is it really? Or is it just because ingrained ways of working seem impossible to sidestep?
Why is it that whenever a presales team from a software vendor come in, they are able to deliver content in just a few days? POCs or prototypes for sure, but content nonetheless. And why is it that there always seem to be a few persons in every organization that are able to produce results quickly, cutting and pasting or using homegrown extraction programs? “But it’s different, they are sidestepping all our processes! We can’t put what they produce into production! It’s not even documented or tested!” you say. But does it matter? If they deliver and you don’t? And more importantly, could a similar way of working be adopted internally? Could you bypass some or all of the time thieves? Deliver the goods quickly, and document and integrate afterwards into existing structures in a controlled fashion?
The answer, in many cases, is yes. And it is being done in companies in the Nordic region right now. In some places, it is called a lab or a sandbox. In others self-service, and in yet others, fast tracking. And in some rare instances, it is called nothing at all, or rather, business as usual.
A matter of balance
The research firms have acknowledged the phenomenon. Forrester talks about agile BI. Gartner calls it bimodal IT. The Gartner viewpoint encompasses the entire IT function, highlighting the difference between doing IT right and doing IT fast, doing IT safely and doing IT innovatively, working the plan and adapting. But the message is the same – businesses need to be able to adapt quickly, and IT needs to support that. In the BI world this translates to time to intelligence. Getting information out there quickly will be a top priority. And quite frankly, the inability of most BI teams to do so seems to be an important source of discontent within the end user community today already.
So does this mean all existing processes should be thrown out the window, and chaos reign in the name of innovation? Of course not. As always it is a matter of balance. You use the lab or the fast track where it makes sense. For financial or regulatory reporting? Probably not. But for one-offs, such as a business controller wanting to understand the driving factors behind a certain observation, the fast track is probably both much faster, more cost efficient, and also able to deliver higher quality answers. Information intensive and highly adaptive processes like revenue assurance are also contenders for a more agile approach for information delivery in some companies.
So the next time a sales manager wants to understand which ones of his sales people are giving large-client discount rates to small clients, or understand how a certain product is perceived in a specific market or by a specific segment, you could say to yourself – “you know, this sounds like a one-off, maybe we should try that fast track thingy I read about the other day”.
Will you need new software? Maybe. Will you have to change your processes? Certainly. But if you do, it could be the very decision that finally lets you stay on top of your information challenges. Maybe a little experimenting outside of your comfort zone might be worth it?