Data and security key issues in BI roll-out

Companies see big operational benefits in implementing business intelligence software but only after overcoming numerous...

Companies see big operational benefits in implementing business intelligence software but only after overcoming numerous technical, cultural and process challenges, according to US users at the Business Intelligence Perspectives conference in California.

Speaking at the conference, Bubba Tyler said business intelligence roll-outs had three dimensions - technology, people and processes - and that the latter two were the most challenging.

Tyler is chief information officer at Quaker Chemical, which has been using applications from SAS over the past 10 years to run analysis and reporting operations. "It was a nine- to 10-year process and a heck of a big investment for a company of our size," he said. 

According to Tyler, Quaker Chemical moved ahead slowly and had to continually re-examine its business intelligence model. The process also required the company to collaborate and share information on a global basis, prompting it to tie employees' co-operation to changes in salary. Tyler said Quaker also had to go through the time-consuming process of creating a common language for use in its business intelligence operations and to speed up the collection of data. 

Andy George, senior vice-president of technology at ProfitLine, advised users to phase in business intelligence implementations. Telecom billing processor Profitline runs Business Objects' WebIntelligence software to analyse and audit customer bills. During roll-out, data validity was also a challenge, because too many people were accessing and corrupting data, prompting the company to appoint a data integrity "czar". 

According to Shirley Hughes, chief financial officer and general manager of the city of Falls Church, Virginia, security is a major issue. When Falls Church moved from 2,200 separate spreadsheets to a more consolidated system, it implemented a security policy. Hughes said all staff had to read and sign a document that explained proper procedures, such as not sharing passwords, and all access to the business intelligence systems was kept under tight control. 

Al Brill, senior managing director of technology services at Kroll OnTrack, said the proper maintenance of data being used in a business intelligence application was so crucial that a company should seek legal advice about what could and could not be stored in the long term.

Kroll OnTrack uses home-grown analytical systems to help collect and present data to lawyers, who need it for court. Brill warned of "vampire" data that could linger in the system for years then "come back to bite you in the neck". He cited old e-mails that could be seized on in future litigation and presented in a sinister light. 

Brill said user access had to be monitored regularly and kept up to date - otherwise someone who changed positions at a company might be accessing the system when they shouldn't.

He also noted that business intelligence was potentially the biggest and most important technology investment a company might make. "It deserves the kind of planning and thinking that a project that potentially means life and death for a company should have. I don't think there are any recipes for success, but there are a heck of a lot for failure." 

Marc Songini writes for Computerworld

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