BI Competency Centers Arise to Guarantee Corporate Investments

Aim of new groups is to bring business users into the process

LAS VEGAS -- As part of its preparation to acquire TD Waterhouse Group Inc., Ameritrade Holding Corp. last April launched a business intelligence competency center made up of business users whose charter is to make sure the company’s BI investments yield results.

The notion of a BI competency center is growing as companies seek a formalized mechanism to shepherd the expansion of BI and ensure that investment matches business needs, according to IT managers at Computerworld’s BI Perspectives conference here last week.

Sankar: 'Business users have to become part and parcel of this process.' Credit: Wendy Browne

Sankar: "Business users have to become part and parcel of this process."

Credit: Wendy BrowneM.C. Sankar, vice president of enterprise applications development at what is now called TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. in Omaha, said his company is building the competency center as it works to embed BI analysis about clients into front-line workers’ processes. The center, which TD Ameritrade operates virtually, is key to supporting the company’s efforts to make decisions based on BI analysis, he added.

“Business users have to become part and parcel of this process,” he said. “ is the basic framework that will make our BI investment work.”

Need for Capabilities

Creation of the company’s competency center was prompted by the need for more advanced BI capabilities to include the client base Ameritrade is gaining through TD Waterhouse. The competency center is made up of 10 representatives from different areas of the business who spend 40% to 50% of their time working for the center.

The team is responsible for gathering requirements for BI projects, designing those projects and prioritizing them. One of its first tasks is coming up with common metadata — or data definitions — that users from finance, human resources, sales, marketing and other departments can agree on, Sankar said. Members can also communicate to IT any problems their lines of business might have with a project.

“They become passionate about this, and they take it back to their business units,” Sankar said. “It creates that collaborative force... that will help us anticipate the needs of BI.”

Bonnie Smith, division vice president of IT and business consulting at Abbott Laboratories, said the company is now finalizing efforts to launch a competency center to examine BI investment and develop standards and best practices.

The need for the center arose from a realization late last year that IT investments in BI and data warehousing made by the Abbott Park, Ill.-based company were not being co¿ordinated, she said.

Smith: '[BI] is all around . . . pulling out key pieces of information and bundling them.' Credit: Wendy Browne

Smith: "[BI] is all around . . . pulling out key pieces of information and bundling them."

Credit: Wendy BrowneRaytheon Missile Systems is working on a BI competency center project that it began in July and is aiming to expand to Raytheon Co.’s other six business units, said Mark Westergaard, BI manager of the missile systems unit in Tucson, Ariz.

The goal of the center is to provide a strategy to create a best-in-class BI environment and to align that strategy to key business initiatives and needs, Westergaard said.

“BI wasn’t well known outside of IT,” he said. “We had a lot of explaining to do, a lot of evangelism.”

Beginning next month, the Raytheon center will be launching several pilot projects, including ones to track and analyze defects and cycle times in manufacturing using a new standard BI architecture developed by the center.

Initially, the company will use consultants to staff the center, but it plans to move its own employees into those roles later, he added. The work of the center has already allowed Raytheon to identify previously hidden pockets of BI expertise.

“We’ve found all kinds of people with special skills that we can now align, where we used to go out and hire somebody,” Westergaard said.

Ora Fish, data warehouse manager at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said the university has a steering committee made up of nine representatives from different end-user departments that functions as a BI competency center.

“You absolutely must have people who are accountable for the success of BI and who are dedicated full-time to this,” she said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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