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'Attack of the Data Silos 2': Coming soon to an enterprise near you

Katherine Noyes | May 21, 2015
Information silos are the scourge whose downfall has been foretold ever since the rise of enterprise resource planning platforms in the 1990s, but today, their demise remains far from assured.

Getting the right information into the hands of the right people in a timely manner was an ongoing challenge, said David Rae, the company's president and CEO. "We definitely had silos," he said. "We were probably making more decisions based on intuition or gut feeling than solid facts."

An analytics group was responsible for generating standard reports, but analysts had to pull data from various sources and then cleanse and verify it. Users weren't always willing to wait. Instead, some would circumvent the analytics team and seek out the data themselves for manipulation in Excel.

Company data resided in multiple places, however, so it wasn't always clear how to get it. "People had to send an email or walk over and try to get the information from the person they believed had it," Rae explained.

Starting in 2013 Allied implemented finance and human-capital management systems from Workday, and Rae took pains to ensure silos wouldn't pop up again.

After training a group of 75 or so users in Workday's analytics and reporting capabilities -- as well as its unified data architecture -- Rae gave them free rein for a limited time to explore the new tools to their collective heart's content.

"I figured for the first three to four months it would be fine to let the horses run wild," he said.

After that time, though, Allied started to impose some structure, including processes ensuring consistent data validation and standardizing a set of popular reports.

"My absolute concern was that instead of just an analytics group and a bunch of keeners, we now had 75 people trained" in Workday's analytics, Rae said. "I didn't want somebody in our Phoenix office creating something relevant but not sharing it, and someone in Manila creating the same thing because they didn't know it existed."

A common set of tools can be important, but even more critical is a common set of data, IDC's Morris said.

"It's not the proliferation of separate BI tools that is the problem," he explained. "If you had an integrated, reconciled data set, you can certainly apply multiple BI tools to get at the data."

Such integration requires cooperation between IT and the lines of business, and that brings up what may well be the most important piece of the puzzle: governance.

By 2017, most business users will have access to self-service analytics tools, according to a recent Gartner report. Less than 10 percent of self-service BI initiatives, however, will be governed sufficiently.

"Departments have a ferocious appetite to get insights from their data, but they also need security and management's trust," said Nic Smith, SAP's senior director of marketing for analytics and the company's Lumira tool.


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