By Boris Evelson

My friend and highly respected colleague, Wayne Eckerson from TDWI, posted a great article called “Purple BI People”. In the article he described some of the best practices for business and IT alignment, and cross-functional skills sets needed for successful and effective BI professionals. Wayne, I loved the blue cow analogy, you know that I always think in metaphors, analogies, similies and associations. But, while I completely agree with Wayne in his near term assessment, best practices and recommendations, I would like to suggest another long term point of view.

Can business and IT ever align on BI? Can business ever be satisfied with IT for delivering successful and effective BI applications? Is there such a thing as BT (Business Technology, the phrase that Forrester coined and promotes) in BI?

I used to think we could deliver on that promise. Not so sure it’s that straightforward now. Just look at some of the hopelessly diametrically opposing business and IT priorities. I hear the following complaints from my clients day in and day out:

  • Business is all about revenue generation. While IT can support that, much more often cost cutting is IT's highest priority.
  • Business wants solutions now. Not tomorrow. IT needs to go through due diligence of testing and approving BI applications. Right now, on demand does not sit well with IT.
  • Business wants to react to constantly changing BI requirements. IT has to plan.
  • Business sometimes is willing to do something “quick and dirty” – even at the expense of potentially jeopardizing accuracy and adherence, compliance with standards. IT is all about compliance and sticking with standards.
  • Some business users, especially in the front office, will take speed and agility over a “single version of the truth”. I hear that loud and clear from some of my clients. But this is anathema for IT.

So can business and IT ever find the common ground, common language, lingua franca of BI? Wayne makes some great suggestions on how to do so. But – and this is only one poor analyst's opinion – perhaps the future lies in the clear separation of duties. Let’s fantasize for a second and imagine a bright future where we can reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable business and IT differences and invent a win-win situation as follows:

  • Let IT do what they do best: control, manage and plan. Let IT handle the so-called “lower layers” of the BI stack: data integration, data cleansing, MDM, metadata, data warehousing, etc. Just prepare the data for reporting and analysis.
  • Then, let business users write their own reports, ad-hoc queries, dashboards and perform whatever analysis they want. This is easier said than done, and this will require a huge cultural shift and many next-gen BI technologies. But some of these “next-gen” BI technologies needed to enable business users' self service do exist today and include data federation, SaaS, search-like UI, post-discovery, in memory and many others. They can indeed help to bring such a vision closer to reality.


What do you think? As always, more than interested in hearing the contrarian views.