Centralized BI not always the way to go

Sometimes organizations wrongly make the decision to deploy an enterprise business intelligence solution when what they really need is centralized data management, said one analyst.

Things get sticky when companies find themselves debating between an enterprise-wide BI and departmental BI approach because it’s not necessarily one or the other. The wrong decision is often made when organizations confuse the data management side of BI with the analytics side of BI, said George Goodall, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.

“In many cases, these people don’t need a BI suite,” said Goodall. “They need better focus on data management and data governance practices and they need improved desktop tools for the rocket scientists in the organization.”

There definitely exist use cases for both enterprise-wide and departmental BI solutions, but it does boil down to the individual organization’s requirements for standardized reporting and decision making, said Goodall.

For instance, centralized BI is necessary for establishing core processes like supply chain optimization and financials. On other hand, there is also a need for different BI software for different levels of users and departments, said Goodall. “There are certainly use cases for local analytics,” he said.Nominate someone you work with for a ComputerWorld Canada IT Leadership Award

Navi Azarya, CEO with Toronto-based BI vendor Panorama Software Ltd. agrees that there is a place for both enterprise-wide and departmental BI engines in the corporate architecture.

The choice for either one depends on factors like the amount of pre-modeling, the complexity of hierarchies in the data (such as a time hierarchy of year-to-date or month-to-date), and integration with ETL tools, said Azarya.

While there has been a shift in recent years towards centralizing BI, Azarya believes this move does not necessarily address the needs of individual departments that require a unique level of analytics and functionality. “Enterprise BI consolidation doesn’t solve the business problem; it solves some cost or knowledge issue,” said Azarya.

While organizations adopt a centralized BI tool, they might also continue a departmental approach in recognition of the varying preferences for software among staff, said Azarya. “An executive has a different view of the world than an analyst,” he said. “And an analyst has a totally different view of the world than a clerk.”

Panorama supports Microsoft Corp.’s PowerPivot and Analysis Services, designed for departmental BI users. The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor also offers

SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services that is more geared for an enterprise-wide approach.

Azarya predicts that, in three to five years, Microsoft will merge the two tools, thereby giving customers an integrated yet flavoured view of BI.

And Azarya doesn’t perceive the issue of duplication of reports across the organization a problem because he said that should be addressed using a portal for information management secured as per user roles.

Goodall agrees that departmental BI doesn’t necessarily work against a centralized BI approach. Departmental reports may often be more about recommendations than actual numbers that won’t jeopardize that single version of the truth, he said.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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