Although companies initially were resistant to outsourcing business intelligence (BI) functions to third party providers, it is starting to become a more accepted practice. Paul Morgan, MD at ASYST Intelligence, a focused provide of BI and data management solutions, says with the ever-widening skills gap in the field, outsourcing BI is going to become even more prevalent.
“In the past, companies were a little reluctant to outsource BI due to the inherent complexities of data management, the confidential nature of information, and the need for deep understanding of the business.
“However, in South Africa we face a growing skills shortage in the BI sector, and companies battle to find these high level skills. Most companies also can’t take on full time BI experts because these highly-specialised skills do not come cheap. Without the necessary know-how or support, BI solutions are not implemented or used properly, resulting in wasted expenditure.
“As a result, companies have increasingly been turning to outsourced partners. For most of them outsourcing is the only way to get value from BI,” says Morgan.
Outsourcing BI allows companies to tap into critical BI skills in order to get value from their investment in BI tools. Some of the value the BI consultancy provides is general industry knowledge, deep skills experience across a wide range of organisations, and access to a wide pool of resources from which to draw knowledge.
BI tasks that are typically outsourced include extractions and transformation of data; data aggregation; calculation of ratios and statistics; software customisation and deployment, and training.
Unlike many other outsourced providers which are largely left to their own devices as long as they deliver a service, BI consultants become entrenched in the business as they take their clients through the stages to maturity.
“BI differs to other areas of IT because it requires close collaboration between IT and a range of business executives. Integration with other systems and infrastructure is key to its success. BI doesn’t exist in a vacuum and outsourcing it is not just about maintenance.
"Consultants work closely with internal teams as well as other IT suppliers within a constantly changing environment to continually improve access to information across the enterprise and ensure that the company’s BI objectives are met,” explains Morgan, adding that outsourcing BI to specialists means that BI is approached in a holistic manner.
“Companies taking a DIY approach often neglect important aspects because they don’t look at BI holistically and focus too heavily on the technology side of things. For instance, education and awareness should be an integral part of the BI strategy.
“People at all levels of the business must support the effort to create an intelligent enterprise. They need to accept the technology, it should be relevant to their needs, and they should want to use it otherwise the roll-out of BI can fall flat. Companies often don’t realise this.
“User focus groups and workshops should therefore be conducted get user input, test outputs and gauge feedback to ensure that the tool is relevant to their needs.
“The implementation of BI often means prescribing a new structure of doing things. Change management should therefore also be built into the BI strategy. We have a strong focus on change management that includes business-focused marketing, training and follow-up to ensure that the work carried out in the early phases actually result in sustained adoption, thereby creating value.
“So, our approach is forward-looking. To use the old analogy, we teach our clients to fish rather than doing the fishing for them. By the time we exit the organisation, they are able to stand on their own feet and continue to get value from BI. It is a long-term, value-adding process.”
He concludes with the comment that due to the deficit between the demand and supply of BI skills, and the costs associated with retaining them full time, most companies simply are not equipped to successfully deploy BI.
“It is advisable for any organisation wanting to see return on their investment in BI to consult with BI professionals, even if it is only at an advisory level.”