The goal of business intelligence is a simple one: to turn data into information. In theory, that digital alchemy should help managers and employees make quick, well-informed decisions.
There’s one hitch, though. Too much information — or the wrong information — can leave employees awash in data.
Jim Cates knows the danger. Cates, CIO and vice president of IT at Brocade, a maker of infrastructure products for storage area networks, recently oversaw the company’s BI rollout. But he says the San Jose, California-based Brocade avoided information overload by figuring out exactly what data each department needed to access. “You can’t have a ‘one size fits all’ BI strategy,” argues Cates.
Brocade’s novel approach to the BI deployment? Cates actually asked employees what kinds of information they needed to make decisions.
“We asked finance, HR, marketing, and so on to give us a list of 10 or so different data they needed to make decisions, and who else in the organization might benefit from that information,” he says. “The idea was to start with facts, data, and information and then bring in the BI tools and apps. You’ve got to know the information you need by business role before you start tossing money at it.”
Brocade introduced the Informatica-designed BI app first in finance, then slowly rolled it out to sales, marketing, operations, and the rest of the company. “There are four things a manufacturer must deal with — bookings, billings, backlog, and margins,” explains Cates. “That’s our core set of metrics — and finance owns all of them.”
Hence, rolling out the BI app in the finance department made a whole lot of sense. It also mitigated the risk of deploying new software. “If we could prove the value of this in finance first, then we’d get everyone on board to have it in their worlds, too,” Cates notes. “And if it didn’t work in finance, we knew that would be the end of it.”
The data that the different departments generate now is extracted by the Informatica system and pushed to other departments. In addition, departments can pull data from an Informatica data warehouse using a front-end dashboard. The dashboard, really a online data query tool, was designed by BI vendor Business Objects. “This is more than just data reporting,” asserts Kala Ramaswamy, Brocade data warehouse manager. “You can ask questions of the system.”
So far, Brocade’s management appears pleased with the results. The data from multiple sources has been transformed into information for multiple sources. And that information can be cycled to any department that needs it. “We’ve taken a universe of data and made it finite and purposeful,” says Cates. “This is real information technology, what IT should be all about.”