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Strategy and Performance

As always, when a new business initiative is launched, we must assess whether it supports the company's strategy, performance, or both. If it does neither, we should wonder whether we have lost track of what we are trying to accomplish. Similarly, in connection with the activities of the BA function, we must ask ourselves whether the aim is to optimize the company's performance, or whether the aim is to achieve a closer relationship between the company's strategy and the way in which information is used.

If we focus first on how to improve our performance, the aim is to be more proactive at an operational level, as illustrated by Exhibit 7.5. A good example of a reactive operational BA function would be if our procedures are based on users coming to us. They order the information or knowledge they need, and then we agree on a deadline of, say, three days for delivery. On the face of it, all seems fine here. But try looking at it from the business's point of view. Let's say they are in a creative meeting, and at one point they are having discussions where they want to know how many of their customers in a given region have a consumption of over $400 per month. They can have their answer, of course; it just takes three days. The next time marketing is in a creative situation, they are not going to use the BA function to answer questions like that; they simply do not have the time to wait, unless it's an absolutely vital question. The result is that the business uses the BA function less because of the long response time. Maybe the business chooses to use the BA function in only 30 percent of all the cases for which it was expected to be used when the BA function was established. All of a sudden, we have a situation in which either the BA function represents a bottleneck or the business completely avoids using it. Business support and thereby improved decision making is reduced

Exhibit 7.5 Performance and Strategy to 30 percent, as is the value creation based on the data warehouse. We are not getting a return on investment from our data warehouse.

One way of improving the BA department's performance is to make sure that its analysts participate in meetings that will result in the business subsequently drawing on them as a resource. First, this means that analysts can advise on which data in combination with which methods will deliver optimum results in relation to any given problems. This constitutes an ongoing briefing of the analysts, which in turn means that they will be working in a more targeted way with the delivery of the relevant information and knowledge. Typically, analysts have a large number of data sets or programs at hand that can generate answers quickly. Second, if the business therefore asks questions in a way that means that answers can be generated via these data sets, then the analysts can deliver complex ad hoc reports in a couple of hours or less. This means that answers can be a direct result of the creative processes. The only condition is that the analysts and the business create a dialogue that enables analysts to develop data sets on an ongoing basis, with a view to solving future problems that may arise. A bonus is that an analyst will feel more obligated and motivated to deliver quickly. All of this does, however, place demands on the analyst's business insight or tool kit, as explained in Chapter 4.

The previous scenario means that analysts must be included in the work teams that draw on their resources. If the company wishes to go down this route, a virtual BACC is sufficient. The analyst will be ensured direct access to the end users of the decision support that they generate and can become involved in the development of the value-creating processes. Equally, analysts are given a common forum, which means that they can complement each other's competencies.

If the objective of a BACC is to achieve a closer integration between the BA function and the company's strategy, we've got a strong case for the establishment of the BACC as a formal organizational entity. The primary argument is the impact it gives to have a BACC manager, who can focus on this project and who has a number of employees working for him or her as direct resources that can come into play. If the person responsible for the BACC does not have the formal authority to prioritize strategic tasks, a lot of the analysts' time will be spent on the operational tasks they're performing for their respective departments. At the same time, IT competencies' time in a BACC will be spent on data warehouse maintenance rather than working on enabling what the commercial side of the organization requires.

Further steps toward the goal are to identify where the organization is currently and where it would like to be. In Chapter 2, we designed a model showing different degrees of integration between the organization's strategy and the deployment of BA. The model can be used as inspiration for this analysis. Alternatively, a maturity analysis can be ordered from most IT consultancy firms, and this can lift the dialogue further. Maturity analyses are usually built on a description of current information systems based on a number of dimensions, such as technical elements, people competencies, and the business processes they must support. Similarly, a description is made of the information systems that, in relation to strategies, must be built on the same dimensions. Where we are and where we want to be are thus found—and the problem has been broken down into a number of dimensions, which makes everything clearer.

When organizational clarity has been established as to where we are and where we want to be, the next analysis looks at whether we've got the necessary resources and competencies to move from (A) to (B). As mentioned previously, information systems can be divided into three dimensions:

1. Technical elements, where the question is: Are we internally in possession of the technical leverage that may be required?

  • 2. People elements, where the question is: Are we internally in possession of the competencies and resources to solve the analytical tasks and train users in future solutions as required?
  • 3. Business process elements, where the question is: Are we organized businesswise in such a way that we will get full value from our new strategic BA initiatives? Just as the term maturity assessment is used to describe where we are and where we should be going, the term readiness assessment is used in connection with an analysis of whether we as an organization are ready to move from where we are to where we want to be. After these two analyses, we've answered the two questions: Where should we be going? How do we get there?
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