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Business Intelligence Solution Architecture

If your business intelligence initiative or program is struggling it may be because you do not have effective BI solution architecture in place. BI solution architecture involves far more than just understanding a technology product stack. As its name suggests it is by nature a solution and it encompasses business, information, application, infrastructure, data, integration, and service architectures.

In this new video I show you how to design business intelligence solution architecture that will make your business intelligence initiatives successful. I use SAP BusinessObjects as my example but the concepts are actually vendor agnostic so you can use the ideas with numerous BI and data technologies.

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Business Intelligence Architecture

Creating BI Architecture That Stands Out

In essence Business Intelligence is about taking raw data and turning it into information and then using that information to do intelligent business. The process of both transforming the data and consuming it as intelligence occurs in the BI system. The effectiveness of the BI system is dependent upon the quality of the overall BI architecture. Planning the BI system architecture occurs very early on and there is an art to getting it right. BI System Builders recognise that it takes wide and in-depth knowledge and experience to effectively make consideration of the full BI system in the early design stage of the Business Intelligence architecture. At this very early stage thinking may be embryonic and the components do not yet physically co-exist in the system. The skill set to visualise at this level can be sparse on the ground but the failure to do so can lead to consequent sub-optimal BI systems being developed. At their worse these BI systems run the risk of becoming expensive white elephants. They have taken a lot of effort and budget to implement but in the final analysis the end user community cannot access the critical information that it requires.

So what are the key areas at the macro level that constitute the Business Intelligence architecture and hold interdependencies?

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The Role of the BI Architect

bi architecture

The Role of the BI Architect

The BI Architect must understand the BI vision and strategy and cause both to come to reality through the end to end BI system. The BI Architect achieves this through fastidious planning and designing pre-implementation, troubleshooting and mentoring during implementation, and governing and evangelising post implementation.

The most effective BI Architects know how to formulate Solution Architecture. They are able to hook together several different architectural disciplines to develop the solution. They will understand Business Architecture: Unless the organisation’s business processes and business requirements are understood how can a BI solution framework be proposed? They must of course be experienced with Data Architecture: Data is at the core of Business Intelligence and the best BI Architects will be experienced data modelers. Hand in hand with experience in data modeling BI Architects must also understand Information Architecture: The sources that the data will come from, it’s journey through the organisation, and how it will be consumed and by who. Experience with Application Architecture is critical for the full understanding of the selection of the BI platform, ETL software, BI tools etc. The most effective BI Architects will know how to size the BI/DW system, understand licensing and pricing and work closely with Infrastructure Architects to understand any required integration and procure the relevant hardware, web application servers, load balancers etc. Finally SLA’s should be considered within the Service Architecture: When must data be available by and how quickly must software execute etc.?

To enable all these things to happen successfully the BI Architect must have a clear understanding of the business process areas as well as a high technical level of expertise in the full BI platform. The BI Architect should have knowledge of the potential BI tools, knowing what they can do, how they integrate with other components and their current development road map. Understanding the development road map enables the BI System to be as future-proof as possible and the BI Architect to advise on the future as well as the now. Poorly informed decisions made today can prove very costly tomorrow. This thorough understanding of the BI tools and components, along with BI processes enables the BI Architect to deliver a BI system that constitutes best practice and exhibits high performance.

When powerful Business Intelligence tools such as SAP BusinessObjects are implemented there must exist the BI function of BI governance. Once the BI System has been developed the best place for governance to be rolled out is through a core BICC and the BI Architect should be central to this activity. For example, consider Self-service BI. When a user interacts with the BI System the user is not simply executing a piece of code within a single application such as Microsoft Excel; several different applications will be interacting together across functional areas. These applications are interdependent and so called ‘stress points’ will occur. In Self-service BI hundreds and even thousands of users can hit the BI System simultaneously.  If governance is not applied to these ‘stress points’ they may become ‘breakpoints’. The BI Architect should be familiar with these ‘stress points’ and in practising End to End BI apply governance to ensure that they do become breakpoints.

Not least required is the ability to evangelise the end user community through clear articulation of the BI processes and demonstrations of the benefits of the selected BI tools. In order to gain end user adoption of the BI System it is paramount to give the very best impression of the BI tool set to the end users. End users need to perceive that they are getting more benefits with the new tools than they previously had. New tools may lead to different ways of working and improved process, this in itself requires some change management. The knowledge and skills of the BI Architect make for an effective evangelist. An internal marketing campaign may be designed to ensure that positive communications about the benefits of the BI system are being transmitted and not lost or watered down in the change adoption process.