IT-centric BI models unsustainable, says Forrester

FRAMINGHAM, MASS. — Enterprise business intelligence models that are too heavily IT-centric are unsustainable, a new report from Forrester Research cautioned this week.

Increasingly, businesses that want to develop robust business intelligence (BI) capabilities will need to adopt self-service BI tools and methodologies in order to succeed, Forrester noted.

Two major factors are driving the need for self-service BI.

The first is that BI requirements change faster than IT’s ability to keep up. Even IT organizations with the latest tools and best practices often have to struggle to keep up with business requirements for BI applications, Forrester researcher Boris Evelson said in the report.

Unlike enterprise applications such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), BI applications have a short lifespan and can become outdated very quickly, he said.

The other major issue is that conventional approaches to software development are poorly suited for today’s BI needs, he said. “The traditional waterfall methodology for the software development life cycle calls for collecting user requirements, transforming them into specifications, and then turning these specifications over to developers,” Evelson noted in the report.

“While this approach is often successful for traditional enterprise application implementations, it won’t work for the majority of BI requirements,” he said.

Increasingly, enterprises can benefit from tapping self-service tools for their BI requirements, he said. While IT needs to retain control of complex, mission-critical BI applications, a vast majority of other BI initiatives need to be handled directly by the business units that will be using the applications.

“We maintain that in an ideal BI environment, 80% of all BI requirements should be carried out by the business users themselves,” he said.

The key to success with self-service BI lies in choosing the right tools, Evelson noted. To be really useful a self-service BI tool should enable casual users, technology savvy users and executives to self-serve for new queries, reports and dashboards, he said.

The Forrester report outlines several features that enterprises should look for in self-service BI tools. Some examples include features such as automodeling, data virtualization, search-like graphical user interfaces and collaboration support.

Self-service BI does not, however, mean eliminating IT altogether from BI projects.

“To do it right, IT still has to setup infrastructure, architecture, tools and policies upfront,” Evelson told Computerworld by email today.

Many business organizations try to do an end run around IT by having vendors implement self-service BI capabilities. “But that’s not the right way, [because] it won’t give them access to the entire enterprise data, just what they themselves can connect to,” he said.

Sometimes business units try to enable self-service BI capabilities by signing up with hosted providers. But again without IT involvement, such efforts can be somewhat limited in scope, Evelson said.

“It’s OK for situations where IT just doesn’t have the time, skills, or budgets,” he noted. “But again, this’ll just give them access to a subset of enterprise data.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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