What’s your frame, or perspective, of business intelligence (BI) governance? Is it a boundary that defines rules, task checklists, and control mechanisms? Or does your frame open the window
to a broader view of the governance landscape? Many of our clients are asking for guidance on how governance can help them align business and IT, resolve data quality issues, adhere to corporate
compliance directives, and manage their BI investments. The reality of a good governance framework is that it must include both the tactical boundaries and consistency outlined by the frame, as
well as the strategic vision and interactive partnerships offered in the environment beyond.
The newly installed director of business intelligence at a financial services firm inherited a data warehousing program that was three years behind schedule and over budget. When he invited us to
assess the situation, we found the business executives clamoring for a governance process: they wanted a voice in decision-making and accountability for results. The new director, on the other
hand, wanted to re-architect the data warehouse, update the development methodology, change out skill sets, and get a success or three under his belt before launching BI governance.
The difference between the business and IT approaches to governance was one of perspective. Thus, the governance plan required merging their two frames. We brought the stakeholders together in a
workshop format to develop a BI governance framework that provided a strategic vision of BI as an information asset requiring joint decision-making responsibility between business units and IT, as
well as the operational oversight perspective required to realize that vision. The resulting BI governance framework included four main components: BI guiding principles, decision-making bodies,
decision areas/decision rights, and governance mechanisms.
1. Guiding principles are the core foundation and beliefs that guide the overall program vision and establish the approval criteria for BI projects. They articulate the common
goals of the governing bodies. A guiding principle might look like this: “BI enables user self-sufficiency at the desktop,” or “BI ensures that data is managed as a corporate
asset—integrated, standardized, shared, and reused across business functions.”
2. Decision-making bodies identify who makes the BI decisions: who provides inputs and advocacy, and how they interact. Members of decision-making bodies should span
functional areas and organizational levels in order to provide a continuously balanced view of corporate needs and interests and to provide communications paths and feedback loops. Good BI
governance will share decision-making between business and IT functions. The BI steering committee focuses on aligning corporate strategic initiatives and processes with BI applications,
investment, and usage, while IT focuses on architecture and infrastructure. Decision-making bodies must have the authority and willingness to take action to enforce their decisions; they must drive
individual and program accountability.
3. Decision areas and decision rights are aligned with BI implementation processes at “go/no-go” decision gates and key measurement categories. Decision areas identify
what and how decisions are made. For each decision area, BI governance assigns responsibility and accountability to stakeholders for either decision-making or input. Broadly grouped, BI decision
areas actually set the agenda for the BI steering committee: (1) BI application portfolio and investment, (2) BI implementation project status, and (3) BI adoption and value realization.
4. Mechanisms are the formalized processes, policies, and procedures used to implement BI governance and gauge how things are working. Mechanisms are interdependent and used in
combination with one another to direct BI governance inputs and oversight. Typical BI governance mechanisms include the application portfolio, business case and budget approval, exceptions
processes, the BI development process, tracking and measurements, and a communications plan. Guiding principles may be the most difficult component for stakeholders to agree upon because they are
often entrenched in corporate culture and require hard choices, but mechanisms will take the most time to develop. The templates, tools, and capabilities embedded in mechanisms are usually created
in parallel with BI projects as needs arise and are refined and institutionalized over long periods of time.
The BI governance team at our financial services client walked through each framework component during the workshops. The very act of “thinking it through” gave the team an opportunity
to establish a common vocabulary, debate the issues, test the process against scenario examples, and ultimately accept ownership and commitment to their adopted governance structure. They expanded
their view of governance beyond rules, technology components, and tasks to balancing business flexibility and individual interests with IT standards and corporate goals.
The BI governance team opened their window to view the BI landscape—strategic initiatives, business processes, data, and technology. Then they framed the window with the four components of
good governance—guiding principles, decision-making bodies, decision areas/decision rights, and mechanisms.