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Designs of Intelligence

As companies extend business-intelligence software to the masses, they should think before they deploy.

Competency Centers

At De Lage Landen, the asset and vendor
finance arm of Dutch Rabobank Group,
the creation of a BI “competency center”
has played an important role in bringing
BI to more workers. Launched two years
ago, the center aimed to push a range of BI
capabilities, including desktop scorecards
that track key performance indicators, out
to employees as quickly as possible.

“If we had left that role to IT,” says
Daan Greven, the firm’s corporate manager
for process, controls, and data management,
“things would have taken longer”
because BI would be fighting for attention
amid a score of other projects. Instead, a
team of five people now fields all company
requests for anything pertaining to (in
this case) BI software from Hyperion
Solutions. “The team members are a mix
of the very technical and those with more
of a finance/economics background,” says
Greven. They address problems and
requests for changes and enhancements
to the system and are part of a larger
“information infrastructure” group headed
by Greven that ultimately reports to
the chief financial and risk officer.

Competency centers have been championed
by Gartner and other consulting
groups and are popular in the IT world for
everything from ERP implementations to
integration projects to exploring new technologies
such as open-source software. When the concept is applied to BI, however,
success usually hinges on strong
finance-department involvement and close
communication with business units that
might benefit from an infusion of BI. “Ideally
[a competency center] should report to
finance,” says Hyperion chief strategy officer
Howard Dresner, “because finance is by
its nature a cross-functional group, and the
currency of business is money.”

Dresner notes that while there were
no BI competency centers six years ago,
today it’s estimated that 20 percent of
large companies have one, and another 20
percent plan to add one within a year.

While competency centers play a useful
role in helping employees actually use
whatever BI software the company rolls
out, Greven says the centers do more. “They have a very important advisory role
in helping us realize our long-term vision
of turning data into useful information
that can help us drive strategy,” he says.
For example, while the center responds to
employee requests for help or added
capabilities, it isn’t merely passive: it also
helps push the technology further into the
company by understanding how the software’s
capabilities complement a given
department’s needs. In a sense, it acts as a
collective tutor and coach.

And Greven says the center has
proven to be an excellent launching pad
for new finance staffers, because it gives
them a broad introduction to all corners
of the company, and a look at how technology
intersects with everything from
basic financial-reporting needs to more sophisticated
analytics projects.

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