Saturday, March 12, 2011

The LEGO effect: Re-inventing a BI organization one brick at a time

Who does not remember the iconic LEGO toys? If you have kids (or a kids’s hearth) you probably have some of these toys lying around in the house. When I first got introduce to LEGOs I was fascinated (and somehow intimated) by the infinite possibilities of what could be built with the bricks. The bricks came in different colors, shapes, sizes and forms and yet all of them were required to build a master piece.
I consider a BI organization to be also a master piece within a company; the BI organization is directly responsible for transforming information assets into competitive advantage touching every single business process and operation, with the ability to improve performance by measuring and showcasing light into how things are done. 15 years ago there were no BI organizations as such, this function was carried by a combination of IT and business people who were beginning to explore the potential of relational models in a mainframe dominated world. Today, all Fortune 1000 companies have a group that identifies themselves as “Business Intelligence” and consulting companies have responded accordingly by aligning Information/Transformation management services in a similar fashion. However as companies grow and mature there comes a need for these companies to reinvent themselves; in particular the BI organizations play a key role before, during and after this transformation process.
Discussing this topic with industry experts who have been in the field for a while, we came to shocking yet not surprising revelation: When management is looking at how to re-invent the company they see the existing BI organization not as a uniform entity with a well defined purpose, but rather as a collection of individual bricks that have unique properties in and on themselves: Business Analyst, Data Integration, Reporting, Analytics, Corporate Performance management, Database Management, etc. When you start rationalizing a BI organization like this, it is very easy to get lost in the details. Using the LEGO analogy, when you a look at a finalized LEGO figure (e.g. a Building) you don’t see it or appreciate it from an individual brick perspective, but rather you need to look at all the bricks together to appreciate the end result.
Things get even more complex when you want to create some new shape using the existing blocks. There are different approaches one can take, you could completely disassembled the existing shape, examine each brick independently and then chose the ones you need for the new shape. The problem with this approach is that looking at each brick individually without having the vision for the new shape is not very useful. Each brick is only as good as it enables you to build the new shape you have in mind, if there is no vision, then you cannot possibly build anything other than an amorphous shape that will not survive as it has no purpose. The same is true when a company is trying to re-invent the BI organization. If management starts looking at each components of the group and deciding who they like and who they don’t like without having a firm vision for what the new organization will need to achieve, this will be a very disruptive process which at the end will provide no value to the company, or any of the individuals (bricks) involved.
In Business Intelligence, as in the LEGO world, a brick is just a brick until it is combined with other bricks to create something. It is up to management (aka the organizational architect) to define the vision of what the group needs to achieve, set the goals and strategy and have the organization aligned into that direction. The final design is beyond a simple consolidation of bricks, as it has a reason to exist that transcends the nature of each of its elements to achieve PURPOSE.

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