Managing the BI delivery process

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Over the last few years we have seen a focus on the ability to embed BI functionality within business processes and there is also an increasing emphasis on being able to monitor the performance of business processes by means of BI. However, what we have not seen is the application of business process technology to the delivery of BI itself.

There are a number of good reasons why the delivery of BI reports and queries should be managed just like any other business process. In particular, it is important that the business can trust the information it is presented with and by applying process control you can potentially ensure that you know exactly when the data was last refreshed and that all relevant data has been correctly collected. In addition, you should have enough information to prioritise reports (for SLA purposes) in the case of an outage, you can provide data lineage for your reports (important for Sarbanes-Oxley and EuroSOX), you can determine impact analysis, and with suitable audit mechanisms in place you can determine who looks at what data, who does not and what data and reports are never looked at (which in turn should provide improved capacity planning). The value for data governance purposes should also not be under-estimated.

Of course, to do all of this is not trivial and it requires a range of rather different technologies. To begin with you need to be able to discover all of your data sources and transport mechanisms and collect relevant metadata (whether technical, operational or business oriented) from them. This means connectors that link to ETL processes, to databases and data warehouses, to spreadsheets and to BI query tools themselves; as well as the ability to handle metadata.

On top of that you will need to be able to document what you have discovered and to be able to represent your results graphically, both in workflow terms and with respect to things like data lineage. Further, you will need to be able to support versions of your BI processes because these may differ across your organisation because of factors such as time and geography, as well as organisational differences.

It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that there are a dearth of companies offering such facilities though vendors such as SAP Business Objects, SAS and IBM Cognos certainly have the wherewithal to build such capabilities. In fact, the only company that I am aware of that has ventured into this area is Sybase and even in this case it is not a fully fledged corporate product.

What has happened is that Sybase Belgium has a built a suite of tools called BI-PM (business intelligence—process management), using existing Sybase products (such as PowerDesigner for visualisation) with extensions. It has also designed a methodology called SAFE BI-PM (Sybase Advanced Framework for Enabling BI-PM) around which it is providing consulting services for BI-PM. However, this currently remains a local initiative and it is only available within Benelux, Germany and Switzerland at present. If it proves successful then it will be adopted more widely by the company. I see no reason why this shouldn’t be the case: the arguments in favour of such process management, as outlined, seem clear cut.