BI Competency Centers – A Program Management approach towards delivering excelling BI

I recently came across a client whose need’s where genuinely overwhelmed by a bit of frustration and a lack of solution partners who are not just technology implementers. The company had consolidated a lot of software solutions from various vendors, with overlapping features and functionality and had multiple departments participating in a tug of war for taking their departmental (and individual) BI ventures, enterprise wide. Interestingly, there was the case of an orphaned BI initiative there as well, the sponsors of that project had gone elsewhere!

The company came up with the idea of an excellence center (or a competency center) to try to standardize people, processes and technology. Easier said than done, the whole concept IS highly Utopian and is usually touted as a single solution to this fairly universal problem. But to achieve this”excellence”, a lot of background work is required which besides being costly is also time consuming.

To start with, a vision of an excellence center has to be developed. First of all, what DO THESE TERMS REALLY MEAN? Excellence Centers, Competency Centers, Strategy and Delivery Groups etc.It is one of the curse of hypes but a fairly reasonable mapping exists……”Program Management”

A Business Intelligence Program Management which sees BI implementations not just as a technology with limited business benefits but a business initiated venture with a targeted growth plan providing further services, features, ROI and sanity has a very strong case to sell.

According to Gartner Research, “A BICC is a cross-functional team with specific tasks, roles, responsibilities, and processes for supporting and promoting the effective use of Business Intelligence across the organization.”

BI Projects should be looked as ongoing, cyclical and iterative BI processes providing an improved delivery at each iteration. A Competency Center can provide the framework for measuring BI projects and their implementation, it also lets the company experience the cultural and operational transformations taking place as a result of a systematic and pervasive BI establishment. However, considering the different organizational behavior at different sized companies, operating in various verticals in diverse cultural backgrounds cannot be a single, enlightening offering.

It has to be Tailored for each concern whether a corporate or a department. But in general, a few set of services are considered core to the BI concerns in a company, namely,

  1. The Periodic Assessment of ROI and Cost vs Benefits.
  2. The standardization of processes and technology, whcih includes an enterprise level integration infrastructure again for both business and technology.
  3. A well defined and controlled Risk Management perspective on the BI space.
  4. A carefully crafted Knowledge Management initiative including organizational change.
  5. A focused and prioritized agenda on Business User “Buy-In” into the BI environment.

Several companies provide their BICC setup and operations competencies and consultancies these days.  However, there aren’t many best practices or guidelines in choosing the right partner for establishing one. Minimum requirements could be the ability of execute BI projects and programs, strong Human Resources, Business Processes and Systems Integration skills etc.

Although BICCs are ongoing programs, they should be highly target oriented. These milestones and performance targets are based on various assessment calculators which usually come as part of a BICC setup.

A very creative way to visualize the progress and understand the whole philosophy behind the BICCs is wonderful BI Maturity Model for demonstrating the characteristics of a BI program or project, developed by TDWI.

There is also a fairly detailed book on the topic of establishing and developing a BICC, published from SAS and Wiley and Co, Titled:

“Business Intelligence Competency Centers: A Team Approach to Maximizing Competitive Advantage (Wiley and SAS Business Series) by Gloria J. Miller, Dagmar Brautigam, Stefanie V. Gerlach

Although the book is written by one of the BICC consultancy firms, the ideas presented are applicable universally. Their interpretation of the core services offered (or should be) by a BICC have been widely adopted by both the industry and the academia.

Source: Business Intelligence Competency Centers, a Team Approach to Maximize Competitive Advantage" SAS and Wiley Co.

Source: Business Intelligence Competency Centers, a Team Approach to Maximize Competitive Advantage" SAS and Wiley Co.

All of these services are interrelated and each serves as an input to others. Each service also serves more than one goal of the BICC.

For example, the Advanced Analytics service besides providing a greater usability of BI and its infrastructure also increases the ROI. It also presents a strong case for evangelizing BI. It gives the business users an insight on what CAN happen from your BI environment. For organizations not having a sound infrastructure in place, an aggressively advertised advanced analytics service can form the motive to invest in a holistic enterprise information architecture, for example.

Establishing a BICC is a highly subjective matter and varies substantially from case to case. However a template based road map can be followed as one provided in the referred book. Primarily it depends on the existence of a similar setup already in the company, the maturity of the company in terms of its processes and policies for change management and technology, the type of people in terms of domain expertise and skill levels, the budget and time constraints etc.

As part of a general best practice, it is ideal to grow the BICC organically, meaning from bottom up with sponsorship from the top. A departmental wide BICC prototype which is planned for the enterprise but services one smaller concern at a time, like a department and then growing gradually into covering more departments and offering richer services.

Having a centric approach towards managing the concerns of BI is a daunting task but has its dividends promised if done well. The success of BI projects heavily rely on their continuity, reliability, flexibility, visibility and scalabiilty. BICCs offer just that.

    • Frank Snieder
    • June 17th, 2009

    Hi Adrian,

    You have given the subject a lot of thought. But I’m not shure what your question is. If you want to make the orphaned BI-project successful, you have to find new parents. There for get a sponsor on executive level (the father, you know the one who has got the money) and get a BICC-manager (the mother you know the one who does all the work) who really understands BI but also organizing, money, and people. You also need to take responsibility for providing the right information to the users. In this case it is not just following the processes. But taking responsibility even though you’re not the blame of the error. So if you have trouble with the delivery of data. The BICC should be the BICC should be at least the catalyst to solve the problem. Make a soft split within the BICC between development and maintenance. And make shure the the maintenance department is the knowledgebase. Also make shure that there mind set is flexible.
    Well there is so much more to tell. But for now I think this is enough. Feel free to contact me.

    Frank Snieder

  1. Frank, these are some excellent pointers. The BICC was dysfunctional, they simply created a support service for the orphaned project within the BICC to carry on…

    u said, “But taking responsibility even though you’re not the blame of the error”, could you elaborate more on that?

    • Frank Snieder
    • May 29th, 2012

    Hi Adrian,
    It was Only just, that I foundation out there was à response in my post…
    Anyway, you asked if I could elaborate in ‘taling resposibility even though you’re not the blame’.
    In my experiance most errors (or at least à very significant part) in a BI-environment is caused by (change in) data from the source applications. If a user

    • Frank Snieder
    • May 29th, 2012

    … Finds out an error, caused by changes in THE source, don’t redirect him/her to an other departement. But take resposibility to solve THE problem, not nescesarally by yourself.

  1. January 22nd, 2011

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