BI Leadership

The Analytics Battle: Agility vs. Governance

Despite the recent rise in data analytics as a “topic du jour” the concept has been around for over a century. “BI” as we think of it really gained traction in 1989, when then-Gartner analyst Howard Dresner popularized the term “business intelligence.” But from its earliest days, data management and BI have been the purview of the IT department. As the demand for reporting increased, BI leaders emerged to focus on standardizing and governing data and metrics, creating dashboards and reports with traditional BI tools that ensured one version of the truth enterprise-wide. And at the time, this top-down approach to BI worked.

But in today’s on-demand world, businesses need to move lightning fast, to be agile and to be able to course-correct in real-time to compete. The IT-driven approach to BI reporting no longer works for the business person who needs to ask questions, get answers, and based on the answer, keep iterating to gain insights. If a retail brand manager sees an anomaly with an item SKU on a report, it prompts logical next questions. Why? When? Where? With the top-down approach, she must work through data analysts to get ad-hoc reports built and perhaps wait days to get the answers—too late to have any impact.

Meanwhile, for the “data ninjas” it always feels like groundhog day—they deliver reports, which surface more questions, which result in more reports, creating an endless back and forth where neither side ever feels satisfied. In response, business analysts have employed workarounds using data discovery tools, creating bottom-up, “shadow IT” solutions. While this workaround produces faster ad-hoc answers, it is counterproductive, creating silos of information and many versions of the truth.

Now imagine a world where our brand manager could iterate at the speed of thought, lightening the load on BI teams, but do it in a governed way that didn't create security and version control nightmares for IT. That world is finally becoming a reality.

In fact, the Eckerson Group recently published its report “Governed Data Discovery: Balancing Flexibility and Standards,” on this very issue. In the report, industry thought leader Wayne Eckerson discusses the challenge of balancing standards and governance with speed and agility in enterprise BI.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

As Eckerson outlines, these diametrically opposed approaches to BI—top-down governance vs.bottom-up data discovery—are two sides of the same coin. Both have the best interests of the business at heart. But the freedom and agility that business users need to affect change is at odds with the controls IT leaders needs to impose.

Governed, or top-down, BI environments have always intended to address the needs of a wide range of users, from BI administrators and developers to casual and power users. They also give IT and the C-suite the standards and controls they want, through permissions, approved data sources and standard enterprise reports. The question has always been, how do you create freedom for ad-hoc data discovery?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle are the BI tools for self-service data discovery. Without a strong plan for governance, these solutions were built to enable fast analysis across limited amounts of data, usually stored in spreadsheets and uploaded directly by an end user.  Unfortunately, this creates data silos and inconsistencies across organizations, creating a lack of trust in the data, and forcing business units to turn back to BI to move forward.

Today, a new breed of modern BI platforms are emerging to blend the two worlds of top-down and bottom-up BI. They can handle enterprise-wide scale and governance, while also providing an easy user experience that makes it fast and responsive to analyze large data volumes. One reason for the improvements has been the introduction of search-driven analytics. Search is an easy interface for non-technical users and today’s modern BI solutions have built security access rules right into the search box, which enables hundreds or thousands of users to co-exist in a single system and only see the data they are supposed to see. The result is that anyone in a company can get fast access to data, without creating the previously mentioned data silos or inconsistencies. According to Eckerson, search-driven analytics “is, in many ways, the missing link, a tool for casual users in a top-down world to do ad hoc in a way that makes sense to them using search.”  And because search-driven analytics is easy enough for anyone in an organization to use, it helps reduce the backlog of report requests on the BI teams.

The tug of war between governance and ad hoc reporting is weakening as organizations realize they have to adapt the way they’ve always done business in order to keep doing business. More important than the tools, people and processes need to change.  BI teams need to accept that they are no longer the analytics gate-keepers, and business users need to understand the value of governed data access across the enterprise.  Modern BI platforms provide a way for IT and business leaders to meet in the middle.

To learn more about how new modern BI platforms can end this tug of war between governance and speed-of-thought reporting, read the new Eckerson Group report, or watch his recent on-demand webinar “Data Discovery + Data Governance = The Best of Both Worlds.”

×