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The business analytics dilemma

By David McWilliam, Director at Cortell Corporate Performance Management.

The business analytics dilemma
In today’s world, there is no longer any argument over the need for business analytics. It provides facts and information that can be used to enhance decision-making, improve business agility and provide an important competitive edge. However, much confusion remains in the market over centralised and decentralised solutions, so-called agile Business Intelligence (BI) and traditional BI, which provide different levels of analytics freedom and IT control. This typical disconnect between business and IT leads to the business analytics dilemma – the need to keep both business and IT happy and deliver solutions that provide real business value and return on investment (ROI).

The reality is that top performing companies are analytics-driven, as the proper optimisation of information assets provides insight to guide actions throughout the business. Organisations are now looking to increase investment into business analytics to cover multiple areas, including BI, data exploration, trend and statistical analysis, what-if analysis and predictive analytics. In this manner, it is the ultimate goal of the enterprise to change the culture and discipline of their organisation to rely on analytics driven decisions, rather than going by gut feel or using what amounts to educated guesswork. The challenge is no longer around the decision to implement solutions for data and analytics, but the actual process of going about doing so successfully, so that benefits will be realised and goals attained.

This challenge is only exacerbated when different advisors and vendors raise the perceived conflict between centralised or decentralised solutions, which provide different levels of analytics freedom and IT control. This rift, or lack of vision and cooperation, between the “business” stakeholders and the “IT” stakeholders, is a common challenge in many areas, and is well known if not well understood and dealt with. Traditional BI is perceived as being a dinosaur, too rigidly controlled by IT to provide the necessary information to the business to enable them to make decisions. However, the so-called agile BI tools claim that analytics can simply be “plugged in” to any data source and can then be used. The danger of this scenario, while it does provide compelling freedom to the business, is that this data is then uncontrolled, and different users could get different insights based on different data, which may well lead to conflicting predictions and analytical outcomes.

Solving the dilemma means satisfying both the business demands for access to information, and the IT need to control and manage this data in an acceptable manner. Satisfying both parties can prove to be immensely challenging, and often results in a stalemate, where nothing gets done because a suitable middle ground cannot be found.

In order to meet this challenge, it is critical to include both IT and business in all analytics decisions. The business should not simply task IT with finding a tool, as happens so often. IT often does not understand the needs and requirements of the business, and business users do not understand the mechanisms and requirements of IT.

Finding the middle ground requires a balance between access to information as well as applicable regulations and control. It is no use having a solution that is so rigid with rules and regulations on how to access the data that business users reject it as impractical, as this is a waste of a significant investment. At the same time, business users should not be permitted unfettered access to any and all business information. The freedom to explore information and understand how business can benefit from reporting and analysis should be balanced by the discipline required to validate the data, provide a single version of the truth for reporting purposes, and standardising dashboards and reporting across the organisation.

Business users must be given access to the tools they need, and IT must cater to this new breed of business user. However it is still vital to exercise the right governance and control over the information. The only successful outcome for the organisation is a solution that offers an agile and personal analytics capability, which is integrated with approved enterprise planning and forecasting, analysis, profitability modelling and performance reporting.

While this need may be well recognised, achieving this balance still proves to be an insurmountable challenge for many organisations. Organisations need to understand the full spectrum of their requirements before opting for any solution that they are sure will provide for all of their needs, even if they start by addressing only specific pains. Partnering with an expert consultant, one which understand the business needs as well as having the right vendor solutions in their stable will ensure that the most appropriate solution is selected and effectively implemented to meet the needs of both business and IT around business analytics.

David McWilliam
Cortell Corporate Performance Management

Lundi 11 Mars 2013

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