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July 2007
Experts voice

The BI Center of Expertise: towards a single, unified Business Intelligence system
Interview with Florence Burnoud, Director of the BI Solutions Group, Bull France
and Cyrille Chastaing, Director of the Bull France BI Services


Faced with fluctuating markets, new regulatory regimes, mergers and acquisitions… organizations need to ensure that their analytical views increasingly converge, to give a coherent overall picture of the business. For a long time, numerous decision-support systems have been developed in isolated infocenters, in ‘silos’ With its BI Center of Expertise, Bull now offers a unified approach to BI, encompassing functional, technical and organizational concerns.


Why is Bull consolidating its approach to unified business intelligence?
Given the way the market is moving, and constraints linked to mergers/acquisitions and new regulatory requirements, enterprises are increasingly going to need responsive, reliable and scalable information systems.
Over the past few years, the trend has been to complement production systems with infocenter (or data warehouse) applications enabling data to be separated out, processed and manipulated, so as to cope as quickly as possible with an ever-increasing number of ad hoc requests for information. Based essentially on their analytical capability, such solutions have won over functional managers who are really keen on ‘dashboards’ and forecasting tools.
These vertical solutions may have met the demand in the short term, but have resulted in information systems being subdivided, and solutions, resources and infrastructures becoming increasingly heterogeneous in a way that does not optimize resources. This approach is not conducive to cross-functional business analyses. The IT Director has progressively lost control of these systems as they have rapidly evolved to keep up with new requirements; constantly being renewed, and generating significant additional costs that could have been avoided.
Against this backdrop, today IT Directors are starting to reclaim their information systems, with the aim of unifying them: in effect, rationalizing, organizing and controlling the business intelligence information systems. This process of unification involves rationalizing and consolidating technical infrastructures, optimizing logical infrastructures, and centralizing resources in centers of expertise, as well as unifying data to make it more relevant and reliable, while unifying tools to provide effective cost control and management of skills.

How do you implement these kinds of centers of expertise?
The unified Business Intelligence center aims to give IT Directors access to a group of architectural, organizational, methodological and technical components, so they can optimize the deployment and operation of business intelligence applications. The whole process of unifying decision-support or Business Intelligence systems depends on the organization’s functional, technical and organizational approach.
The functional approach is of prime importance, in order to design a decision-support system that is well suited to the needs of BI (mass reporting, ad-hoc reporting, multi-dimensional analysis, and data mining…). It does not, at this stage, involve designing software in response to specific functional managers’ needs, but rather requires a global vision of the organization’s business intelligence requirements which the decision-support system must respond to.
On the basis of these requirements, the technical approach then enables the systems, software and technical architecture for the decision support system to be designed to evolve in total alignment with the master plan, as well as the rules and demands of the organization’s existing information systems. This is a really crucial stage in the design of the decision-support system, during which it is also useful to define the standards and good practices that will ensure the overall, long-term coherence of the system.
The organizational approach sets out to define the appropriate structure (Business Intelligence center of expertise) and methodology (BI project proposal, model deliverables, project quality plan, scoping tool…) necessary to the management and operation of the decision-support system.
As long as the initiative is based on a specific approach, it will ensure on the one hand that the implementation is consistent and applicable across the whole organization, and on the other hand that the system is appropriately scoped, using structured methodologies, and suitably structured for the organization concerned.

What are the key factors determining the success of this kind of operation?
It is important to achieve a good balance between the technical side and business knowledge. The IT Director must structure the technical solution, control the architecture, improve the organization of the fundamental platform, and commit both to performance levels and the quality of information.
Functional management teams must take responsibility for formally stating their requirements, streamlining customer tools and overseeing the installation and launch of the solution. We supply a BI methodology toolkit designed to tackle just these kinds of issues. The IS center of expertise enables the unification of the decision-support system by providing a suitable processes for standardization, architecture design, organization and methodology.
Bull has worked alongside a number of major players in the Business Intelligence sector for more than 15 years, and has defined this particular offering in response to the demands of customers, including Dassault Aviation, the French Post Office, and the RSI, the social security body for French self-employed workers.


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