Larry Burns wrote the book Agile Data Management, an extremely practical book about how to make agile work without sacrificing data management. His advice and approaches throughout the book were based on actual projects as an employee of an agile team for a large company in the Northwest. His experiences were fresh and real.
So when Larry approached me about a year ago with a book idea on business intelligence (BI), it got my interest. There are lots of books on BI, but I knew Larry would write one that was practical and was chock full of his daily adventures at work.
He did not disappoint.
His latest book, Growing Business Intelligence, describes how organizations should approach BI, from a holistic and sustainable approach. Larry provides real and practical advice and weaves a powerful analogy throughout the book: a garden analogy! Shortly after reading the book, I went for a walk with my wife and she questioned something about a neighbor’s garden, and to her surprise (and mine too), I knew the answer! I guess if I ever change professions, gardening could be my calling thanks to this book.
The garden analogies are easy to grasp. Each chapter starts off with a cartoon with something to do with gardening, and then Larry introduces the analogy and jumps into the BI topic. Let me give you a taste of the book with this introduction to Section II:
Once we know what we want to accomplish with our garden (i.e. “how we want to be in the garden, and what we want the garden to do for us”), the next step is the design of the garden itself. In landscape design, we start with what’s called the “hardscape”: the underlying structure of paths, walkways, beds, patios, seating areas, ponds, and arbors that form the structure of the landscape. Each one of these features should support the functionality of each part of the garden (for example, a serene view or water feature for contemplation, or a deck or patio for entertaining). In landscaping terms, this is called “building the bones” of the garden.
One of the most fundamental challenges of BI, in my opinion, is the difficulty of creating this “hardscape.” Unless you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that adheres to good data management principles (master data management, business metadata, enterprise data models, data governance, etc.), you’ll likely find yourself in the unenviable position of being asked to build a car while people are driving it!
This is the position I currently find myself in. In our company, which doesn’t “do” data management, everybody wants to jump into the pool of BI exploration and analytics. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet built the pool. Or dug the hole for the pool. Or even hired anyone to dig the hole or build the pool. Nevertheless, everyone in our company wants to go swimming—now!
This disconnect between what we want (or need) and what we currently have is one of the most important drivers for an Agile approach to BI development. Your business users are not going to wait for years while you conduct stakeholder interviews, create an enterprise data model, design and build an enterprise data warehouse, and institute an organization-wide data governance framework…
The garden analogy works very well.
There are six sections in this book:
- Section I. Covers the rewards and risks of BI. Rewards include increased revenue and market share, and decreased operating costs. Risks include wasted money or time, or poor business decisions.
- Section II. Focuses on BI infrastructure. I found the BI Assessment Checklist very useful. Larry covers the four patterns of BI: Quick Wins, Forklift, Operational Data Store, and Data Lake.
- Section III. Explores BI implementation (using agile). He covers data profiling and the benefits of high quality metadata. Also, Larry has this term “Perennial BI” (another great gardening analogy), which is about a fundamental shift in thinking: from the static analysis of data at rest to the immediate consumption of data in motion.
- Section IV. Goes through what can go wrong on a BI project and how to prevent these things from happening. If you think weeds are bad, wait until you read about the dangers of insufficient resources, multiple meanings of terms, and more.
- Section V. Is all about BI maintenance. Learn what sustainable BI means and discover a list of critical success factors.
- Section VI. Is a full case study; good if you like music too.
I’ll end this column with one more of Larry Burns’ quotes from Growing BI, about data:
As soil is the raw material of gardening, so is data the raw material of BI.