BI as Usual Is Insufficient

 Posted by on Sep 22, 2011  Add comments
Sep 222011

This month, Cutter unveiled its redefined BI practice, Data Integration, BI & Collaboration. I know it’s a mouthful, so let’s just call it “DBC” for short. As the new Practice Director, my aim is to shape this practice to best address your needs, but more importantly to continuously adapt as your needs change. I also suspect you are looking for Cutter to assist you in staying aware of emerging ideas and trends that might benefit your organization. Please consider this post an open invitation to join an ongoing dialogue that will help me shape this practice appropriately. I hope you’ll share your questions, ideas, and feedback to make this venture a success.

The practice name conveys the fact that traditional BI, the organization and reporting of corporate operational data, is no longer the competitive differentiator it once was. Don’t get me wrong, BI is essential to maintain parity, but today’s business leaders are increasingly looking to public data, blogs, social media outlets, global news, and other externally available data to support important decisions. Moreover, today’s business leaders can’t wait for long project cycles to provide these capabilities. They need it now, and they need IT organizations that can shift and adapt quickly to changing demands.

Since the late 1980s, we’ve been talking about data as an asset, and business intelligence as “mission critical.” Most enterprise BI systems are not perceived as truly mission critical. Typical BI systems provide essential reporting, but business users are still unable to access all the data they’d like. And data that nobody can access has negative value — it’s just taking up space. I rarely meet IT leaders who honestly believe that their enterprises couldn’t function without the BI system.

One exception is Zynga, the company behind many popular social networking games. At the TDWI 2010 Executive Summit in San Diego, Ken Rudin, Zynga’s VP of analytics, described Zynga as a company of “lots of expensive, creative people who design new games.” Rudin explained that success requires art plus science; the art is in generating the game idea and the science is in finding out if it’s a good idea using analytics. The Zynga data warehouse is a high-volume system based on vertical “No-SQL” database technology. Data streams into the warehouse within 10 minutes after an event occurs, and analytical metrics are immediately streamed back to game designers to create rapid feedback. Thirty percent of all Zynga employees directly access the analytical system weekly. Rudin says, “If our analytics system goes down, our whole company comes to a stop.” That’s not a claim that many IT leaders can make.

Zynga’s analytical system has achieved this level of mission criticality for several reasons. The corporate culture is one that values metrics to support good ideas. Its IT leaders have embraced new and emerging technologies and have made the necessary investments to train staff and keep everyone current. Zynga has adopted a development process that focuses on the continuous delivery of business value and the rapid adaptation to change. The Zynga analytics experts are embedded with game designers rather than being centralized in a BI team. And there is extreme collaboration between BI developers and customers.

How truly critical are your BI systems to the enterprise mission? Are you able to respond quickly to the demands of the business for data-driven decision support? How about all that social media buzz — can your business leaders take advantage of that?

Regardless of your industry vertical, I want this practice to provide you with the ideas and technology guidance that you can use to achieve value. The hot, emerging topics that support this goal include social BI, agile analytics, Big Data, columnar databases, associative databases, in-memory analytics, and more.

Of course, the DBC practice will continue to provide expertise in the fundamentals of data warehousing, business intelligence, and related topics such as business performance management, critical-event processing, and others. But we are in an exciting time regarding data integration, BI, and collaborative technologies. There are a lot of innovative ideas that deserve our attention and may change the value we provide to our enterprises. I want to help you stay on top of all those ideas.

Please tell me what you think. What would you find the most interesting? What topics will assist you in achieving your goals? What keeps you awake at night? I’m committed to incorporating your feedback into the Data Integration, BI & Collaboration Practice to better meet your needs, so please leave me comments here, or send me a message (kcollier at cutter dot com).


Ken Collier

Ken Collier is a leader in combining agile methods with data warehousing (DW), business intelligence (BI), and advanced analytics -- disciplines that present a unique set of challenges to the incremental/evolutionary style of agile development.


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