Pfizer is one of the companies that’s seeing benefits from agile bi. For the past three years, the New York-based pharmaceuticals maker has been using the agile approach to develop data integration and delivery services,
data-capture applications and BI reporting capabilities.
“We have recognized that the [internal] customers of each service
we provide need a very rapid and flexible approach to meet their
needs,” says Michael Linhares, a research fellow in business infor-
mation systems and pharmaceutical sciences at Pfizer. “It is expect-
ed that our applications and system can be adapted to the changes
in the business just as fast as the business itself is changing.”
Pfizer is using BI application development tools from a variety
of vendors, and it provides BI applications and data to about
1,000 users within the company, he says.
“Our applications allow for the collection, integration and
reporting on [drug development] projects,” Linhares says.
“This includes project status, financial forecasting, resource
forecasting and integration with several other aspects —
including the drug supply chain.”
The new approach to BI enables Pfizer’s application develop-
ers to move more quickly. For example, it used to take six to 12
weeks to make a significant change in the way data is presented
in a data warehouse. With the agile development methodology,
it typically takes three to seven days, he says.
Pfizer also involves end users as much as possible in the
development process. “The customer [end user] is key to this ap-
proach of development,” Linhares says. “The customer reviews
the paper prototype, the working prototype, tests and validates
the data, and will be the key to supporting a production release
to a larger community of users. Our systems are designed and
built for the end user. Without their constant interaction, our
team could not build a useful product.”
— BOB VIOLINO
that organizations face three significant challenges when it comes
to effectively delivering BI that is truly valuable to the business.
First, data volumes and the number of BI data sources are
growing. Second, the amount of time managers can devote to
decision-making is shrinking. And third, demand for management information is always increasing.
Clearly, BI implementations have to be more agile so managers
can easily find the information they need as business requirements change. And to achieve that, companies must analyze
their organizations’ business needs and take them into account
when configuring and deploying BI software, White says.
The Aberdeen research shows that organizations with the
most highly agile BI implementations are more likely to have
processes in place for ensuring that business needs are being met.
Another key to success is to heavily involve end users in the BI
development process. At nearly 70% of the organizations that are
successfully deploying agile BI, IT and business people collabo-
rate frequently, according to Aberdeen. Such interaction is not
as common at organizations that are less agile; only 50% of them
report frequent collaboration between IT and the business.
The interaction that’s needed might not come easily, White
notes. “There has always has been a communications barrier
between IT and the business,” he says, and that barrier must
be knocked down if agile BI is to become a reality. “That close
involvement and the iterative process is part of the agile methodology, and it’s very applicable to BI. Developers working with
business users side by side or close by is very powerful.”
Organizations using agile BI are tapping into that power. One
example is Kiva, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that arranges
person-to-person loans via the Internet to help alleviate poverty.
In 2010, Kiva implemented a new data warehousing and BI application based on Pentaho’s Agile BI technology to handle its
rapidly growing stockpile of data and replace an increasingly inefficient ad hoc analysis process that was done via spreadsheets.
Kiva has grown rapidly since its founding in 2005, and it has
helped entrepreneurs around the world secure more than $200
million in microloans from individual lenders. As of April 2011,
the organization had united more than 570,000 lenders, 131 mi-crofinance institutions and some 450 volunteers around the globe.
The nonprofit has used Pentaho’s open-source development
platform to create monthly, weekly and program-specific dashboards that product managers and finance specialists can use to
track and manage key metrics such as transaction volumes, new
user registrations and promotion performance, says Greg Allen,
a business analyst at Kiva. The organization has developed tools
such as a “loan posting explorer,” an application that allows risk
managers to analyze loan posting patterns based on region and
country, type of loan and type of borrower, he says.
The biggest benefit that Kiva’s agile BI efforts have yielded is
the ability to rapidly and incrementally deliver information to end
users. “We have a big vision for our data warehouse project, which
will require a substantial time investment to complete,” Allen says.
“Instead of forcing the organization to wait for a ‘big switch,’ we are
able to focus on specific business areas to design, create and release
data marts and reports as part of our iterative development.”
Documenting user requirements is critical to the design of the
data structures underlying Kiva’s BI system, Allen says. “We’ve
found that our users respond best to testing early versions of our BI
solutions,” he says. “Ad hoc data sources enable us to test business
logic to collect and incorporate user feedback quickly, before devel-
oping more robust reporting data structures. This can expose un-
foreseen [difficulties and] lead to more comprehensive solutions.”
Allen says having greater agility with BI development gives the
organization more flexibility. “Our business can change quickly,
and being able to respond quickly with data-driven decisions is
critical to our growth,” he says. “Agile BI enables us to capture
new data and transform it into information.”
Although Kiva is at the beginning of an ambitious plan for its data
warehouse and reporting capabilities, “we are already able to deliver
new insights on our user base and partners,” Allen says. “Often,
these early or narrow views into business areas have generated new
questions that improve the next iteration of development.” u