Bringing True Agility to BI

John Pugh, CTO of Nathean Technologies, discusses the true value of Agile Business Intelligence and how it’s time for organisations to step away from using complex, traditional BI tools.

The BI market has evolved rapidly since the term “business intelligence” was coined back in the 80’s. There is no doubt that the market has matured considerable with a huge array of products and services to help organisations with their data management  projects–  predictive analytics, data warehousing and scorecards to name but a few.

While all these offerings provide some value to their users, they are typically targeted at the IT function.  Given that the majority of users in any given organisation are non-technical, it is no surprise to learn that one of the main causes of failure to BI projects is a low user adoption rate. Traditional BI tools are typically too complex for the average business user and very often there are significant costs involved with implementing them across the organisation.

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Agile BI delivers information at the speed of thought

Business users are pressed to get answers quicker than ever before and a slow, traditional approach to analysing data can make decision-making extremely difficult. Who has the time to wait around for static reports when you can have the data you need right now, at this very moment in time without the elaborate development cycle?

Agile Business Intelligence 101
So what is agile business intelligence and why should organisations implement it? According to leading IT research company, Gartner, agile provides a streamlined framework for building business intelligence that delivers faster results using just a quarter of the developer hours of a traditional waterfall approach. Agile can cut project costs in half and drive project defect rates toward zero.

The benefits of moving towards an agile BI framework are significant.  Using the power of in-memory technology, users can get the specific answer they require, not just multiple possible answers.  This approach ensures they can respond rapidly to any changes in the organisation instead of spending time on further analysis and questioning.

Another key benefit of agile BI is the flexibility it offers. It is designed to change along with the organisation and their BI requirements.  In fact a 2011 survey of 200 businesses and IT executives conducted by Forrester found that 67% of respondents said that BI requirements change at least monthly.  It is widely acknowledged that BI changes more frequently than most other types of software projects. This is why flexibility is so important when it comes to selecting the right offering.

Ultimately, agile BI projects are all about the people, rather than the process itself. It puts the business user first and foremost, above all else.

Agile BI Case Example
A great case example is Fingal County Council who implemented Agile technology to link and analyse their data across collections, purchasing practices, resource planning and attendance management.  They decided this was the right approach to their data sharing challenge as it avoided the need for a data warehouse, which can often create backlogs and slow the entire process down considerably.   They wanted to create a connected network of information, as opposed to isolated data islands.

In a matter of days they could share insights and create a repeatable process between data sources. They could see instant results with very little effort. The business benefits were clearly evident – they were able to make better informed decisions, negotiate competitive terms with their suppliers and achieve real cost savings.

Big Data and the Agile Enterprise approach
“Big data” is a buzz term we are seeing used more often in the IT industry, particularly in the social media world.  With 340 million tweets being posted every day, it’s not surprising that marketers are struggling to get a handle on the huge volume of data stored online.

According to Gartner, big data is the term adopted by the market to describe extreme information and processing issues which exceed the capability of traditional information technology along one or multiple dimensions to support the use of the information assets.

You would imagine that in order to make sense of big data it would probably mean spending big money. However, I believe that by implementing agile BI technology, companies of any size can achieve real benefits for a moderate investment.  The reasoning behind this is that agile BI puts the ability to gain insights into the hands of the users, while at the same time keeping the operational costs as low as possible. It removes the need for spreadsheets and custom reports, making analysis of huge volumes of data an easy task.

The Future of Agile BI
Organisations across the world are recognising the need to move away from earlier-generation applications and embrace next generation agile technology.  Business users increasingly need to be more connected to information and this means having instant access to the data they require, at the right time and in the right way.

Given the turbulent economic climate, businesses cannot afford to operate with a lack of agility across their practices and functions.  Therefore, there needs to be a move away from traditional BI approaches such as silos and centralisation, which would have been hugely popular in the 90’s.

We are already seeing the power of agility being harnessed in areas such as computer based learning and energy conversation.  Delivering a successful agile BI project means getting the balance right between having the appropriate standards in place to support change while being consistent.

What are your thoughts on Agile BI? Please leave your comments below.

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