Agile BI: meet user demand, beat IT complexity

BI remains atop business managers’ wish lists and, not coincidentally, on IT’s to-do list. The demand for BI and analytic tools is unlikely to abate any time soon. 

For many CIOs, however, delivering new and innovative BI apps has been a bit of a Sisyphean challenge: ballooning data volumes combined with complex IT environments have stressed legacy BI tools. Consequently, IT has been scrambling to keep up with users’ desire for intuitive, easy-to-consume BI apps that incorporate all of the latest bells and whistles and corporate information sources. 
That conundrum is the theme of a new Forrester Research Inc. report, Agile BI Out of the Box, by principal analyst Boris Evelson. 
Adding to the difficulty of BI projects is the complexity of their underlying IT architecture and infrastructure, Evelson writes: “Multiple components must be considered including data integration, cleansing, modeling, warehousing, metrics creation and management, reports, dashboards, queries, alerts and many more, with infinite approaches to cobble them together into a useful and meaningful BI application.” 
Meanwhile, BI stakeholders are largely dissatisfied with BI apps’ agility and flexibility, according to the results of a Forrester survey. Although packaged BI applications have had some success in delivering relief to specific business functions, Evelson contends, “they are not a panacea for addressing all of the shortcomings of traditional BI applications.” 
The thrust of Evelson’s report is that a new way of designing and building BI applications is needed. He maintains that the “tried-and-true” BI design approach –“collecting information about all data sources, documenting every entity and attribute, creating a data warehouse or data mart based on the information collected, and then gathering specifications for BI applications”– is not always up to the challenge posed by today’s complex IT environments and user demands.

Traditional waterfall software development, Evelson writes, “is almost guaranteed not to work for the majority of BI requirements.” Forrester calls its new approach “Agile BI.” It may sound like just another buzzword for you to ignore-another analyst (ironically) calling for the deployment of new software or IT methodologies to fix the software purchased and rolled out before…which was going to fix everything that was wrong before that. 

But Evelson makes a good case for Agile BI. The two-fold purpose, he says, is to get the development done faster and to react more quickly to changing business requirements. In the report, he takes a deep dive into the technical requirements, organizational changes and vendor strategies required by companies that want to make the switch.

“Mostly, Agile BI is no different than any Agile development methodology that calls for incrementally delivering products versus a big-bang approach; for rapid prototypes versus specifications; for reacting versus planning; and for personal interactions with business users versus documentation,” Evelson writes. “The Agile BI methodology differs from other Agile approaches in that it requires new and different technologies and architectures for support. Metadata-generated BI applications are one such example of a new technology supporting Agile BI.”

Companies that want to transition to an Agile BI strategy will need to start small and apply it to targeted business cases, he writes. Vendor management is also going to be critical in this relatively new IT discipline.

Evelson is resolute on the methodology’s future: “Agile BI is clearly here to stay and succeed, since most traditional, non-Agile BI platforms and applications will be increasingly challenged to keep pace with a world moving at lightning speed.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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