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BI on a Budget

Yes! You can deliver cost-effective business intelligence.

Clarise Doval SantosvClarise Doval Santos is CTO of InterActive Systems & Consulting and a senior project manager for Kaiser Permanente. Her career encompasses all aspects of designing, implementing, and managing enterprise solutions— including the development and engineering of decision support systems, business intelligence (BI) suites, Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) tools, portals and dashboards, datamarts, and data warehouses. Here, Doval Santos shares her 10-point strategy for campuswide BI that won’t break the budget.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Doval Santos will co-present “The Economics of BI: How to Drive Cost-Effective Implementation Strategies” at Campus Technology 2007 in Washington, DC, July 30-Aug. 2.

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Ask yourself: What is BI, anyway?

  • Is it analysis? Reporting? Data mining? Predictions?
  • The answer is, it doesn’t really matter how the rest of the world defines BI—it’s how you and your users define it that counts.

Think: Architecture, architecture, architecture.

  • In real estate, architecture means location; for BI, it’s all about aligning data flow to business processes and enterprise data models.
  • Match up information architecture, business architecture, and program architecture.

Use rapid prototyping as you try to understand users’ needs.

  • Build your game plan while helping users understand what is possible.
  • Use tools like Marvelit Dash and Palo (an Excel OLAP plug-in) to deliver results in as little as a week.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

  • Break your overall data warehousing/BI program into a series of small projects that will provide quick wins.
  • Stay aware of your process: Discover, define, design, develop, deploy, determine the next steps, and test along the way. Repeat.

Exercise rigorous project management.

  • Many think that modern application development methods are antithetical to "traditional" project management. Not true! Each needs the other to achieve business advantages rapidly and without "scope creep."

Involve your users every step of the way, and in a timely manner.

  • If projects take too long, lose relevancy, don’t deliver on current needs, don’t fit well with business and IT procedures and standards, and/or are too hard to learn, they will not lead to useful applications.
  • Remember: The least cost-effective project is the one that never gets used.

Get buy-in from all organizational leaders who have reporting and analysis needs.

  • Sustainable BI projects don’t exist in a vacuum; they require input from all stakeholders.
  • Your project must be part of an overall enterprise data strategy.

Data stewardship matters!

  • The quality of source data is very important. It all goes back to GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).
  • Assign a data steward to work both with the users and the source system experts, to verify data integrity.

Consider open source software as seriously as you would proprietary products.

  • Open source tools and BI suites like Pentaho (, Jasper-Soft, and SpagoBI have matured into true competitors of the proprietary vendors.

Keep your BI strategy up front, constantly.

  • Have an overarching plan with both strategic and tactical tracks.
  • As each project within the tactical track is completed, iterate the strategy with lessons learned.
  • You’ll see how your priority of cost-effectiveness is served by your strategy.
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