Off to a Fast Start

BI system development hits the ground running with efficiency and flexibility using the agile methodology.

Feeling like your business intelligence efforts are a bit sluggish and out of touch with what the company needs? Maybe it's time to try agile BI, a rapid development methodology that solicits end-user input early and often and delivers BI systems fast.

While the use of the agile software development methodology is a big component of agile BI, it's by no means the only attribute, says Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Forrester defines agile BI as an approach that combines processes, methodologies, tools and technologies, while incorporating organizational structure, in order to help strategic, tactical and operational decision-makers be more flexible and more responsive to ever-changing business and regulatory requirements.

Very few organizations have implemented agile BI as Forrester defines it, Evelson says. Based on anecdotal evidence and discussions with clients, he estimates that out of all the organizations that use BI applications, probably less than 20% of the BI user population within those organizations is leveraging some kind of agile BI. But he predicts that this figure will climb to about 80% in the near future.

Business intelligence is particularly well suited for agility and the agile development methodology, says David White, an analyst specializing in BI at research firm Aberdeen Group.

Research conducted by Aberdeen in February and March indicates that organizations face three significant challenges when it comes to effectively delivering BI that is truly valuable to the business.

First, data volumes and the number of BI data sources are growing. Second, the amount of time managers can devote to decision-making is shrinking. And third, demand for management information is always increasing.

Clearly, BI implementations have to be more agile so managers can easily find the information they need as business requirements change. And to achieve that, companies must analyze their organizations' business needs and take them into account when configuring and deploying BI software, White says.

The Aberdeen research shows that organizations with the most highly agile BI implementations are more likely to have processes in place for ensuring that business needs are being met.

Another key to success is to heavily involve end users in the BI development process. At nearly 70% of the organizations that are successfully deploying agile BI, IT and business people collaborate frequently, according to Aberdeen. Such interaction is not as common at organizations that are less agile; only 50% of them report frequent collaboration between IT and the business.

The interaction that's needed might not come easily, White notes. "There has always has been a communications barrier between IT and the business," he says, and that barrier must be knocked down if agile BI is to become a reality. "That close involvement and the iterative process is part of the agile methodology, and it's very applicable to BI. Developers working with business users side by side or close by is very powerful."

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