Ok, I’ll admit it, I love football. I thoroughly enjoyed the Euro 2016 Championships earlier this year. Bizarrely, it got me to thinking about different styles of Business Intelligence (BI) implementations; Agile vs Enterprise. The approach of two teams in particular seemed to provide a good analogy for both pathways: Wales and their fantastic success reminded me of the agile approach, whereas Germany with their structured, well thought-out, methodical style is reminiscent of the enterprise methodology. Let’s have a look at how these two teams applied the methodologies.
If we consider the characteristics of agile development, the focus here is on being nimble, quick, and able to respond to changes, the clue is in the title after all! Much of the focus is on breaking up the process into smaller chunks and then developing in rapid iterations. Collaboration between team members, owners and developers is key, the relatively short development time (usually a couple of weeks to a month) should involve numerous playbacks and re-evaluations to make sure the deliverable is giving the end user what they want. Minimal planning is needed and documentation is kept out of the expedited development process as much as possible.
This combines to give us:
- Short, small chunks of development
- Rapid return on investment of time and money
- A deliverable greater than the sum of its parts
- End user ownership and buy-in through constant contact. The end user really feels the deliverable is truly theirs as they have seen it grow organically with their input.
So, who in a business would this really appeal to? In my experience, end users don’t really care what the IT department do. They want answers to their questions quickly and they don’t want to wait for the tools to get those answers. When they get their answers, they want to delve deeper and be in control - very self-service. Centralised IT tends to want a toolset and design that allows them to deliver rapid results without being hugely labour intensive.
Agile can give both parties what they want. The business gets its answers, if not ‘now’ then very close to it (two or three weeks is pretty favourable, I think)! IT can give the end users what they want with low overheads; a small team of report builders and data modellers can deliver rapid results, and can also manage the releases in a structured format.
What do we mean by Enterprise BI? This is the traditional development model, known as the Waterfall, and this usually requires heavy planning and requirements gathering up front, dedicated design and build phases, along with verification and testing and a maintenance life cycle. You’ll likely have experience of this as the age-old IT implementation cycle. The enterprise approach is heavily structured and has tried and tested sections and toll gates to pass between – teams and clients tend to know exactly where they are in the process, allowing for more accurate planning and budgeting. However, I have found teams to be quite large and implementations of this type tend to be lengthy and exhaustive generally on large projects over long periods of time.
On this end of the development pathway spectrum, we are looking at:
- Large mapped out projects, making a course change following an alteration in company direction, or step-change in a way of working, may not be quite like turning an oil tanker. However, it will definitely require contemplation and a thorough examination
- Built-in latency between requirement and delivery as definitions are strictly followed. This helps the project ensure the requirement is right before the delivery is undertaken
- Labour-intensive programmes with defined roles
- A tried-and-tested methodology with relatively simple time and budget-keeping.
Who would this approach appeal to? Well, there are key benefits to the IT department here; a single, standardised project structure and delivery will ensure that the business can define and prepare for what it will receive and buy into it well in advance. Similarly, this approach tends to provide a ‘single version of the truth’ that can be centrally managed. A standard model is essential to allow future proofing and a robust strategy to deliver BI and, with a limited number of opinions to take into account during development, a more coordinated set of reporting is possible. Users can take confidence in knowing that the tools to help them do their jobs have been thought through and tested – although user input and consultation is invaluable to the process. Finally, releases can be structured and scheduled to ensure that delivery is seamless and support is ready.
Getting the balance right
You might have noticed that I am an optimist and I’ve refrained from dwelling on the negatives of either approach. In my eyes and experience, it’s a case of ‘horses for courses’ with what fits best for the company. The IT department in conjunction with the business needs to develop a BI strategy to meet the business’s needs. Generally, this will involve the creation of a data warehouse and then data marts. These tend to use the Enterprise methodology with agile developments overlaid which can rapidly present the data to the end user in various reporting styles. This gives both flexibility and self-service discovery that the business requires to the rapidly changing questions or else presenting authored, centralised reporting to drive efficient day-to-day running.
Back to the Euros
Back to Wales and Germany then. Well, Wales embraced the agile methodology. They had a small, nimble team that quickly re-planned the best way to play for the in-game situation. They had a core team who showed great team spirit, they had scrums on the pitch and never gave up. They rapidly overachieved and made use of the resources to implement their vision.
The Germans, on the other hand, have planned and strategized for years to be who they are: World Champions. They have performed analysis of what they needed to do, involved all the club teams in Germany to get there, planned for breaks in the winter to make sure players are fresh – all starting over a decade ago with a top-down restructuring of the national game with clear, defined aims and requirements. True masters of the Enterprise method.
Both strategies have their merits – both sides were successful – and perhaps the new IT landscape is changing it for the business world.
Let’s just not mention England, please...