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From Strategy To Execution

How can business intelligence improve the whole information value chain? The answer requires a network approach that integrates standalone applications and data resources to deliver timely intelligence across the enterprise.

This article was originally published in November 2003.

How can business intelligence improve the whole information value chain? The answer requires a network approach that integrates standalone applications and data resources to deliver timely intelligence across the enterprise.

Some of these questions can be answered with today's BI technology, but the answers are usually limited to a particular situation and department. Most questions that deal with issues across an enterprise or at a market level go unanswered.

Companies that lack coordinated applications or integrated databases struggle to get a pulse on their value chain throughout the day. Some look to enterprise resource planning (ERP) as the solution to application and data integration; however, transitioning from old systems and cutting over to new ones can be an intricate, multiyear effort.

Many companies have tried using data warehouses with BI applications to deliver valuable information to users, but translating business needs properly can be a complicated undertaking with a delayed return. Another limitation: Warehouses' focus on historical analysis, not on operating the value chain. Companies of all sizes have implemented data marts, but these marts are usually point solutions that solve analysis questions for a specific business area. Marts are rarely coordinated across the enterprise to communicate with each other. (See Figure 1.) Operational data stores (ODSs) provide a way to integrate operational data; however, they focus on unburdening transactional reporting, not on facilitating value-chain intelligence flow.

So, how can a company monitor the activity across its supply/value chain and coordinate core functions using information to optimize business processes, with very little impact to its current environment? The answer is the BI network infrastructure (BINI), which enables information sharing, exchange, and movement, passing intelligence between core functions so that the business can be monitored across the enterprise. A BINI isn't about ERP-level integration, data warehouse organization, historical or multidimensional analysis, online analytic processing (OLAP), or predictive modeling. Rather, a successful BINI project focuses on the infrastructure and enterprise processes necessary to integrate and unite information and analytic models from any type of system, whether operational or decision support.

The BI Network

Gartner describes a BI network as supporting "an interconnected, nonhierarchical network of knowledge workers who jointly develop, share, and connect data, metadata, data/process models, analyses, and decisions. [The workers] use a collaborative BI framework to achieve shared insight more quickly, enabling faster, better, and more accountable decision making."

Gartner forecasts that BI networks will come to mainstream use by 2008. But the BI network Gartner describes includes technology components such as collaboration, workflow, and enterprise application integration (EAI) software. Although these are all valuable, they complicate development of a BI network — which explains the group's 2008 forecast.

If you focus on building the BINI — the infrastructure — you can start passing core metrics across your BI network today, leveraging the technology you already have with very little spending for new tools. Creating an architectural layer that sits on top of corporate applications and databases will let you cull the high-line information from your operational and historical environments with little or no impact to current systems.

We recently completed a project with the objective of developing an enterprise business activity backbone for a billion dollar corporation that deals with life-cycle management of perishable commodities. The BINI was meant to be the architectural glue for the flow of operational information and intelligence between all stand-alone enterprise applications in near-real time. Executives wanted to monitor the business operations as a whole, not just function by function, in order to optimize portfolio performance. We implemented the BINI with business activity monitoring (BAM) dashboards in just six months, in sync with the company's acquisition of several new facilities. The system has been running successfully with no hitches since day one.

Critical BINI Success Factors

Executive requirement to optimize value chain

Recognized need to move with insight, speed, and flexibility in the marketplace

Executive-level directive for full cooperation of all business units within the value chain

Experienced BINI team

Expert knowledge of business and technology

Robust ETL tool

Dashboard strategy.

Key BINI Advantages

BINI pathways let you pass information across the enterprise, kicking off processes, sending alarms, and keeping the value chain well oiled, through user-defined thresholds. The BINI is all about unstopping the value chain — delivering information where it's needed, just in time.

Most executives are in a fast-moving vehicle without immediate access to the information they need to stay ahead of the competition. A flexible infrastructure that can unite information from stand-alone, legacy, ERP, and decision-support applications across the company enables executives and managers to easily and effectively monitor business activities day to day and year to year. A BINI provides this adaptable infrastructure, along with the following benefits:

  • Enterprise-level exposure to analyzed, core metrics
  • Intelligence delivered to operational applications across the value chain, with accompanying triggers and alarms
  • Architectural glue for disparate applications, which lifts business units out of their silos
  • Implementation with little or no impact to current systems (the BINI sits on top of operational applications)
  • Data delivery in near real time via extract, transform, load (ETL) — a much cheaper option than real time via EAI
  • Minimal up-front technology investment — most large companies already have ETL and dashboard software
  • An intelligence flow that can assist both operational and decision-making workflow.

In BINI, the emphasis is on the operation of enterprise intelligence movement, not the generation of intelligence, which allows for streamlined design and implementation.

What is BINI?

Based on our BINI implementation experience, we chiseled out the following objective:

A BINI is designed and implemented to deliver core intelligence across the enterprise to all critical points along the value chain, fully integrating the key metrics of each business unit without affecting stand-alone application and data environments, with an overarching objective of providing executives and management with the means to monitor and optimize operational business activity.

A BINI achieves its greatest value when it enables a smooth running information value chain — with Wal-Mart-like efficiency — that moves intelligence across the enterprise and between all internal and external business units and their applications and databases.

We found the following components necessary to successfully meet the objective we described:

  • An infrastructure for moving intelligence that can be designed and implemented quickly and provides a centralized management framework
  • The intelligence, which already exists in whatever form each business unit generates
  • An intelligence schema, which should include an operational intelligence store (OIS) focused on housing shared intelligence for reporting and delivery from transactional and decision-support systems and a star schema for efficient dashboard delivery
  • Management dashboards.

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