Strategies for Building a Successful Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC)

In an effort to consolidate data across six separate business divisions, MassHousing, a leading provider of affordable housing for individuals and major developments across the state of Massachusetts, deployed business intelligence (BI) to consolidate large quantities of disparate data in a fast and efficient way. In tandem with its executive information system (EIS), MassHousing established a business intelligence competency center (BICC), to ensure consistent deployment across the organization and efficiency of all BI systems. MassHousing is one best practice organization that is taking its business intelligence initiative a step further with a BICC to help enable true business optimization.

With BI increasingly becoming a strategic organizational initiative, companies are looking for ways to manage and support deployment across various user groups, corporate divisions, and regions on a global scale. By creating a BICC, or working teams of IT and BI users that help promote BI expertise across an organization, companies can better standardize and manage deployment of the technology for performance gains. The BICC provides a body of centralized knowledge and best practices necessary to make broader business optimization goals a possibility.

Why a BICC?

A BICC helps establish best practices for BI integration by bringing together people across an organization with various backgrounds and areas of expertise. Combining the expertise of power users in a company from various divisions including IT and business operations, the BICC creates a committee for sharing knowledge and ensuring consistency across all sectors. The result is an organizational structure for promoting repeatable and predictable BI deployment. The BICC helps establish processes for more consistent and organized enablement that ultimately results in increased end user adoption, higher success rates, and efficiency of the BI solution. BICCs are a key strategy to fostering enterprise-wide BI deployments, helping organizations transform their data into business value for competitive advantage company-wide.

The following seven steps serve as a guide to developing a BICC. They include BI best practices and the questions that need to be answered for building a successful team focused on specific organizational needs.

Determine the current state of the BI infrastructure: To properly define the BICC mission and vision, an organization must first analyze the current BI infrastructure. Taking an inventory of BI systems that are currently in place and the cost of such systems will help determine where business gains and cost savings can be made. It is also important to properly define the existing IT and business structure, corporate strategies, and people competencies across the organization so that the BICC will integrate with the current business functioning efficiently. Another valuable measure as part of this analysis is to take a survey of user needs. This will allow you to combine broader organizational strategy with the functionality that BI users would like to see.

Identify needs: By properly assessing the landscape of current business, IT, and user needs, an organization can best determine what gaps in knowledge the BICC will help to fill. In addition, the analysis will help shape the direction and design for the BICC by revealing any weaknesses in the current BI implementation.

MassHousing, for example, recruited lead information people or super users within each major department to help communicate the needs for each sector, thereby opening the lines of communication and influencing the direction of the BICC. (By analyzing the current situation, a specific need was identified - the ability for executives to be able to view loan amounts across numerous business areas in one database, rather than accessing the separate information sources and manually comparing the data.)

Determine the scope of the BICC: Whether you are adding onto or enhancing your current BI systems or just beginning deployment, it is important to determine what business needs the BICC will serve. While nearly all BICCs meet the support and consulting needs of an organization, particularly during project startup, the ongoing scope of the BICC will take shape over time. Other initiatives, such as license management, promotion, and training can also fall under the guidance of the BICC. Most importantly, the size and capabilities of the BICC will vary from one company to the next and will be based on several different factors including: human capital needs and dynamics, culture, as well as hardware and software considerations.

ENECO Energie, one of the largest suppliers of gas, electricity, and heat in the Netherlands, is an example of a larger company successfully implementing a BICC. ENECO Energie grew a center of excellence from early projects that expanded to support additional organizational integration. ENECO now supports cross-functional communications through various means such as monthly management reports, a BI portal with the company strategy map, and monthly business review meetings to stay focused on overall strategy.

Select the right people: Identifying the right combination of skills and people that will best serve the BICC is also an important step. Enlisting people across various user bodies and divisions of an organization that represent the total of all users will ensure that the BICC is able to serve and meet the requirements of the organization as a whole. A priority for selecting BICC members is to ensure that there is representation from both the business and IT sides of the organization so that two-way communication occurs between these two arms.

As is the case with scope of capabilities, the member needs for the BICC may change over time, but always plan on having the following three basic roles intact: BICC director, business analyst, and technical consultant. This will properly maintain the core support and consulting functioning of the BICC. It may also be useful to add BI experts to the team so that they may share broader technical knowledge.

Internal support for the BICC: Whether you are adding onto or enhancing your current BI systems, building awareness and momentum for the BICC throughout the organization will help ensure its success and ultimately impact the success of the BI deployment. Getting buy-in from senior executives is particularly important to building the strongest, most successful profile for any business intelligence initiative in an organization, since senior executives most often make the strategic purchase decisions and need to understand the ongoing BI initiatives - and their success - in order to support them in the future. The BICC staff, in turn, will be motivated by organizational support and obtain the level of involvement needed to further BI initiatives.

For instance, MassHousing has created an internal portal that the agency now refers to as “My MassHousing.” This structure provides employees with a centralized location to read agency news, fill out timecards, and access performance management systems. It also provides executives with easy access to budget information and proactive highlight reports on trending and stoplight information.

Communicate the success of the BICC: Once operating, the BICC should be sure to communicate its success and demonstrate how it’s helping the organization meet BI goals. Whether it is through ROI analysis or formal communication of success stories, organizational awareness of the BICC’s effectiveness in supporting BI deployment will ensure its longevity. In addition, it is important for the BICC to stay current with changing business and regulatory requirements so that the BI initiative remains operating at top performance and to ensure that it maintains support from key executives and stakeholders.

Manage the maturity of the BICC: It may be necessary to make changes to the scope and/or the personnel to accommodate the growing needs of the organization as the BICC matures. For instance, a BICC that initially serves IT-only functions will need to begin serving business functions as well in order to ensure consistency in the strategy across the organization. Formulating a more formal vision for the BICC and determining the proper alignment of people will be fine-tuned throughout the BI deployment lifecycle, as well as the life of the organization to take business and marketplace changes into account.

As BI implementations grow, the importance of having a structure in place for strategic deployment is becoming as important as the deployment roadmap itself. To ensure consistency and repeatability, more organizations like Mass Housing and ENECO Energie are recognizing the effectiveness of a BICC for meeting this end, as well as bridging any gaps between business and IT. BICCs can not only improve BI deployment, but also drive lower costs and higher, faster adoption of the complete BI lifecycle.