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Tom Breur

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Tom Breur, Principal with XLNT Consulting, has a background in database management and market research. For the past 10 years, he has specialized in how companies can make better use of their data. He is an accomplished teacher at universities, MBA programs and for the Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP) program. He is a regular keynoter at international conferences.  Currently,he is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Targeting, the Journal of Financial Services Management and Banking Review. He acts as an advisor for The Council of Financial Competition and the Business Banking Board and was cited among others in Harvard Management Update about state-of-the-art data analytics. His company, XLNT Consulting, helps companies align their IT resources with corporate strategy, or in plain English, he helps companies make more money with their data. For more information you can email him at or call +31646346875.


Do you remember the 1995 movie Seven where Detectives Mills and Somerset jointly investigate a series of ritualistic murders inspired by the seven deadly sins? I vividly remember a library scene where Morgan Freeman goes through a set of books related to the seven deadly sins, like Dante’s Inferno (or hell). The seven deadly sins were: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Today I suddenly wondered, are there seven deadly sins for Business Intelligence? And if so, what are they? Inertia:The potential of BI is unbelievable. It allows companies to make smarter and faster decisions and simply outperform the competition. Lack of relevant information may even lead to a loss of market share, drop in profit or even bankruptcy.  There are numerous examples to support this claim. This is why BI is always in the top 5 of any CIO or CFO. However there are still companies that do not have an (official) BI initiative in their organization or lack focus on the information function. In today’s economy something that one simply cannot afford. So the first and most deadly sin must be something which has to do with the lack of relevant information or slow time to information. The use of BI must be stimulated at all times and no barriers should prevent the adaption of BI within any company. Costly:BI is often considered to be expensive. We all heard people say things like: ”Why does it take 3 months to build a few simple reports”. In some cases these people are right. If BI is not organized in an efficient way it will lead to higher costs. For example if there are many local initiatives or an IT organization that does not understand business needs. For me, the second deadly sin has to do with the fixation on costs instead of thinking about return on intelligence. BI can have a hard dollar (or euro) return but the business case can also be qualitative or based on vision or innovation. Off course, we must always look for smart and cost effective solution. Lowering the TCO can be done, for example by standardization of tools and processes. Another possibility is outsourcing. However that can lead to new challenges. This brings us to deadly sin number three.  Complexity:BI is no rocket science but it is also not a trifle undertaking. BI has both a technological as well as a business component. This makes it neither business nor IT. This creates a possibility of increased complexity in the development of BI solutions but also in the final product itself. The result may be a BI environment that is not used. It is important to keep the BI solutions simple. By taking small and simple steps and making sure that business and IT keep aligned. We must also be aware that there are different types of users and that they use BI differently. Manager need dashboards and aggregated numbers while financial experts need detailed number in spreadsheet like form.  Technology:The fourth deadly sin is that BI is often also the number one deadly sin. In my experience it is one of the main reasons why so many BI projects fail. It has to do with the tendency to focus on tools and techniques. BI delivery is often within IT where the understanding of the business can be absent. Realization of the technical solution, like a data warehouse, is the objective instead of fixing the business need (where the data warehouse is just part of the solution). Let’s remember that IT is just an enabler for doing better business (intelligence). So why are 9 out of 10 BI blogs only about technology? Ignorance:Let’s say that we have found a company that believes in BI, focuses on ROI and with a not all too complex solution in mind. Even better they also focus on business results and not technology. Sounds like all ingredients for a successful BI solution are in place. So they start this great project to improve their call center effectiveness or increased sales force performance. And in the back of the room there is this little geek from IT that always talks about the importance of data quality and Master Data Management. Don’t you wish they would have listened to that guy then in stead off afterwards when their reports have the wrong numbers? Or when they spend days or even weeks discussing about a difference in definitions? The fifth deadly sin is that the most important fundaments of BI are often ignored as they are not sexy enough. MDM and DQ are essential for acceptance of BI.  Deviation:Sometimes a BI initiative just starts. Not because there is a business need. Not because somebody has a vision. Only because the company needs to have a BI system. There is no time spend on thinking which business problem is helped or solved with this solution. All other people have BI so we want it too. The sixth deadly sin is to build something without knowing where to use if for or having no sense of direction. Organizations should never develop a BI environment before they have a clear BI strategy. Halting:The seventh and final sin is that after a BI project is finished or a 1st increment is delivered no follow up is given and BI is not integrated in daily business. The real business value in BI will only emerge if you keep on investing in your BI environment and adapt for changing circumstances. Something like a BICC should solve this. I am not sure if these above mentioned seven deadly sins are in fact the only ones or in the right order. But I do think they contain elements that hinder the proper use of the BI function within many companies today. I would really appreciate your feedback on this. Perhaps you have some deadly sins to add to this list. Please do not hesitate to react.

Posted May 20, 2009 12:41 PM
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