The Business Intelligence (BI) field is changing at a breathtaking pace.  Tightly centralized, IT-bottlenecked methodologies have held the industry in their grip for decades, but today, organizations must decentralize BI – and transform business users from consumers into creators - in order to remain competitive.  The timelines for acceptable insight delivery have contracted dramatically – from years or months down to days or even hours.  In BI, the name of the game is now Agility.

In some sense, this is nothing new.  Even during its heyday, the supremacy of centralized BI was more illusion than reality.  In practice, those expensive systems are primarily used as “export data” sources, and the real reporting takes place in Excel.  Spreadsheet-driven “BI” is invisible to IT, labor-intensive, and error-prone, but has long been the only methodology agile enough to meet the needs of the Business.  In that light, agility has always trumped efficiency.
The wave of self-service BI tools sweeping the market today – and Power BI in particular - have made the traditional benefits of IT-centric tools (specifically:  robustness, scalability, automation, and security) accessible to the Business.  Any successful organizational strategy for Agile BI starts with that recognition:  that the new tools are unlocking workflows that were previously impossible.  Those new workflows are essentially “just” hyper-efficient versions of what the Business was already doing – with or without the support of IT.

IT orgs which attempt to stifle the Business’ adoption of Agile BI tools will ultimately be no more successful than they were at stifling (or even curtailing) the Business’ adoption of the spreadsheet.  Instead, they will merely drive the usage underground, fostering an unregulated culture that we in our consulting practice refer to as “Turbo Excel.”  Underground Agile BI tool usage will be just as invisible to IT as spreadsheet-driven BI always was, but now with greatly-expanded capacity.  And while the thousand fold expansion in powers will provide massive wins for the Business, it will also magnify the scope of the problems they can create.

Successful organizations will avoid driving Agile BI underground, and will instead get out ahead of it.  Good news:  the window of opportunity for doing so is still very much open at the moment!  Our consulting practice has been 100% devoted to Agile BI for years, and even in our view of the world, we see the industry as just now reaching the tipping point.  It’s still early, in other words, but it won’t be long before “early” turns to “late.”  Large numbers of organizations will be caught on the wrong side of this wave, but conversely that only enhances the competitive advantages to be realized by orgs on the right side of it.

As awareness of this challenge dawns on the industry, “Governance” has recently risen to buzzword status.  This is a welcome development, but what do we actually mean by Governance?  What goes into a Governance strategy?

In our Governance engagements with CIO’s and IT Directors, we see an instinctual gravitation toward the technologies involved:  Servers.  Gateways.  Publishing locations.  Data models.  Queries.  Those are indeed important, but they represent only half of the problem (and half of the opportunity!)

So what’s the missing ingredient?  People.  

When we say people are just as critical as the tech, we’re neither being cute nor cliché.  Any purely tech-centric approach to Agile BI Governance is doomed to be half-baked, because in Agile BI, human beings on the Business side occupy a position of importance unprecedented in challenges previously encountered by IT.  

If that sounds daunting, it is – but only if you approach it incorrectly!  Here’s the next crucial piece of good news:  people don’t just present an unprecedented challenge in Agile BI, but also an unprecedented assist.  IT has a team of hidden allies lurking in the Business.  Powerful allies, in fact.  They merely need to be mobilized.  Deputized.  (Or as we like to sometimes say…  “knighted”).

We’ve all heard of “Shadow IT.”  Those people are real, they’re ubiquitous, and they’ve already made an implicit appearance in this article:  they are the spreadsheet developers of today.  And the word “developer” is actually 100% appropriate rather than an exaggeration.  Spreadsheet authors:

 Think like developers (they just don’t identify as developers)
 Represent at most 5-10% of Business users
 Experience the same frustrations with their Business colleagues that IT does
 Have mastered a formal programming language (Excel formulas) without realizing it
Produce results which are absolutely critical to the success of their colleagues, and the Business itself, but are almost universally underappreciated

The Authors are a secret weapon of sorts, and should be the “center of mass” of your Agile BI strategy.  Success hinges on identifying them – in the right places, and in the right quantities (neither too many nor too few).  Success also hinges on vetting them properly, providing them the right kind of training, and developing ongoing, two-way relationships with them.  When you follow the right methodologies, the Authors become the first tier of support for the Business – and the first level of pushback on unreasonable requests.

To learn more about how to achieve that, come back for Part Two in November.