BI users grapple with data governance, winning management buy-in

They share strategies on how to extend BI processes across a company

LAS VEGAS -- Hammering out data governance policies and garnering executive buy-in are two of the thorniest issues when companies extend business intelligence throughout the enterprise, according to several users here at the Computerworld BI Perspectives conference.

Companies want to advance from using BI tools as a way for a handful of users to analyze historical data to populating the processes of front-line workers with valuable analysis. But building common data definitions -- or metadata -- has been a challenge for some companies.

M.C. Sankar, vice president of enterprise applications development at TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., said his company is using a BI competency center to help various business units reach a common definition of how they characterize data.

"The business units have been very satisfied working in silos," he said. "Without [common metadata], you can be looking at the same data and be making two different decisions."

This common metadata model will be key as the company moves to marry its BI analysis into the processes of its front-line workers, such as call center representatives, he added.

Becky Wanta, global chief technology officer at PepsiCo Inc., said the company is in its third year of an IT transformation project to tie together six different architectures. These include the building of an enterprise data warehouse that will function as a "single version of the truth" across PepsiCo's various divisions and brands, she said.

Key to the success of the data warehouse project, which first went into production in January, was assigning a single owner to the various categories of data and data systems, such as customers, products and shipments, to help build its common data model, she said. This model will be used for the data that's pulled from 1,056 sources and 932 applications, according to Wanta.

"This is not a technology play," she said. "If the business isn't the owner of all this information, you end up with a mapping mess."

In addition, PepsiCo is using an enterprise service bus and Web services to help connect the disparate systems and applications without having to hard-code with point-to-point integrations, Wanta said.

"The enterprise data warehouse becomes the cornerstone, if it is designed right, to be the single version of the truth ... by using your connectivity strategy," she said.

McKesson Corp. also is working on a data governance structure as part of its BI efforts, said Brian Hickie, vice president of business intelligence at the company. McKesson has also tapped business owners, such as those who work on the sales-to-cash process, as the owners and stewards of that data, he said.

The San Francisco-based company's effort to fuse its processes with BI data has helped users better understand where they fit into those processes, explained Hickie.

"The decisions are now being based ... on a more comprehensive understanding of that process," he said.

During an impromptu electronic poll of users at the conference, 40% of those surveyed said that effective management of change control, including the consistency of data and common data definitions, is one of the most typical challenges to the "democratization of BI," or providing access to more users across the enterprise. In another poll, 43% of users said that top management's lack of understanding of the value of BI is the biggest cultural barrier to BI adoption, while 25% said that departmental silos in their enterprises and a lack of a BI competency center are the biggest impediments.

Companies have taken various paths to gain management acceptance of their BI projects. At 1-800-Flowers.com Inc., for example, a handful of initial quick successes were key to garnering executive support, said Enzo Macali, senior vice president and CIO.

To show managment, Micali tapped five metrics, such as gross margin and profitability, which executives previously didn't have access to before the BI project.

"Pick a handful of metrics that are meaningful, [and] they will ask more questions," he said.

Gregory Corrigan, vice president at PHH Arval, created several case studies that showed tangible results that BI could bring to the provider of commercial fleet management services. The case studies "crystallized in their minds the need to undertake this," he said.

Now, PHH Arval is using BI analysis to show its clients how the company is meeting its service-level agreements, he said. In the past six months, the company has begun using BI data to predict when a vehicle will likely break down and how much it may cost for repairs so customers can take steps to avoid that cost, Corrigan added.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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