Agile BI – All You Would Like To Know

The name says it all. As we talk about one of the most revolutionary approaches in the world of business intelligence – Agile BI, it focuses on the optimum utilization of the agile development methodology for use in BI projects. Before we read further to understand what it means, here are two popular definitions of Agile BI:

“Agile Business Intelligence (BI) refers to the use of Agile software development for BI projects to reduce the time it takes for traditional BI to show value to the organization, and to help in quickly adapting to changing business needs.” – Wikipedia

Agile BI is an approach to business intelligence (BI) that incorporates Agile software development methodologies to accelerate and improve the outcomes of BI initiatives. – TechTarget

With a sole focus to lessen the time-to-market and time-to-value, in this rapidly changing era of technology, Agile BI brings with it, a continuous process of product evolution with novel reports, dashboards etc. to cater to newer needs.

It is used in many Embedded BI projects that involve supplementary levels of physical software integration to fulfil user needs. Projects that use Agile BI need to have detailed know-how of the existing BI capabilities, their software architecture to leverage the agile strategy during the project.

On a simple note, Agile BI hints towards the infusion of the Agile software development methodology into the BI applications. The traditional BI approach has its own speed at which it gets its results based on which decisions need to be taken. Blending in the agile approach is sure to accelerate the speed at which the entire process of decision-making is being done by business owners.

For successful leverage of Agile BI, implementing Self-service BI – doing it yourself, your way is a prime need for any business to succeed. As popularly known, self-service BI aims to serve as a dashboard module for a business analyst to independently, create reusable widgets/dashboards and is sure to benefit the community with its visually appealing features, dashboards, and reports.

Unlike the traditional waterfall approach, the Agile BI approach facilitates end-users to view desired reports/dashboards as soon as the iterations are over. This gives users the much-needed information on a regular basis, encouraging usage of Agile BI methodology.

The Agile Manifesto & The Birth Of Agile

Originally conceived in the year 2011, Agile came up as a revolutionary methodology to software development and then came the Agile Manifesto:

Manifesto For Agile Software Development:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

And this is how the birth of agile happened and there was no looking back. As an iterative approach to software development, the agile approach has expanded its horizons and is now popular as a methodology clubbing itself with other important technologies, to give them better performance and insight.

Key Challenges That Can Be Overcomed With Agile BI Methodology

  • Precise data definition which is tough to collect
  • Absence of ownership of data and its governance
  • Lack of consistency in developing uniform designs for BI objects
  • Missing continuous integration and continuous delivery practices
  • Dearth of testing automation tools to carry on TDD practices
  • Enhanced time-to-value for projects that have a longer ROI timeline

Originally, the waterfall method was popular, even in the BI arena and did its job quite well. But, as technology advanced, so did the demands of the industry and the waterfall project methodology was old. The above challenges posed as a hurdle to organizations in growing their business multi-fold. Then, came agile BI to overcome all these challenges and show a new era of business intelligence to the world.

The Agile BI Methodology – A Step-Wise Overview

Business intelligence is seeing new limelight now with Agile BI getting increasingly popular. The traditional approach did not see any communication between developers and business users all through the development cycle. There was less focus on what the users need. With Agile BI coming up, organizations are looking at faster returns on investment on the BI front. For that to happen, there needs to be a comprehensive framework that can help implement Agile BI to its finest. Here is a stepwise overview of what framework would suit best:

  • Initiate and develop a broad BI vision and best practices for the organization
  • Initiate stakeholder participation by training them in agile basics
  • Identify fundamental business needs that include answering queries through BI reporting
  • Find out logical data sources and perceive the available reporting mechanisms
  • Analyze BI software in detail, judging whether to go in for an on-premise strategy or a cloud-based one
  • Start preparing iterations that take care of the user’s needs in a logical way. Making use of ‘just in time’ modeling, test the BI setup in a small group
  • Once the iteration is done and tested, move it to the production environment. Coming back to iteration, get ready for yet another one, making it a continuous cycle
  • Check for various BI reporting mechanisms during production, making necessary changes in the iterations based on available feedback

Different Approaches To Agile BI Project Management

Agile BI Methodology

What It Means

Scrum A project management framework that focusses on software development in a monthly sprint cycle with a certain set of backlog features
Crystal Methods Emphases on the person-specific angle of development communication and cooperation
Feature Driven Development (FDD) Developing an overall ‘shape’ object model, based on a 5-step process, that consists of coming up with a feature list including planning, design, and development features
Dynamic System Development (DSD) Very similar to rapid application development methodology, dynamic system development has wonderful documentation to showcase its agile software practices
Extreme Programming (XP) A system made of dynamic practices has been attracting attention owing to its proven competence to maximize an agile approach to project management
Agile Modelling The agile way to data modeling comprises of revolutionary ways to extract data and deal with a variety of databases

Factors To Consider Prior To Implementing Agile BI

Prior to starting your Agile BI implementation, here are certain checklist question that needs to be answered:

  • Have you ascertained full development potential in your project?

It is important to analyze and observe the development team competence during the start of implementation of Agile BI, in projects which have had earlier experience of BI and which don’t have any. The stakeholders need to make sure that there are no compromises in the project owing to the implementation of Agile BI.

  • Are you well versed with your project management methodologies?

Bringing in BI and that too clubbed with agility is a big change in itself. Organizations need to be well versed with their ongoing project management methodologies prior to plunging into this revolution. In case a proper system of communication with customers is not established or if user expectations aren’t noted properly, there could be chances of miscommunication.

  • Is your infrastructure in place?

Finally, that is the supporting hand that plays the backbone of any project. Before companies go in for Agile BI, they need to check on their infrastructure settings and if they are enough to offer the desired setup for the project.

  • Are your organizational goals aligned with that of your projects?

The agile way of working has lots to do with the goals/objectives that the organization has and that of the projects. It is essential to get a deep understanding of the goal alignment between different levels to have a smooth implementation of Agile BI.

Key Advantages Of Agile BI

  • Offers Flexibility in Delivery, Used Adoption and RoI

Agile BI offers its users a large amount of flexibility with respect to user adoption, delivery, and garnering maximized RoI. It pulls it users to use and implement self-service BI – through which the end-users can independently, extract the data and create desired reports and queries with the least help from the technical department.

  • Quicker and Easier Delivery of Products

What is important for any project to succeed is no overrun in terms of time, cost, and efforts. That is where Agile BI offers a quick, easy, and well-budgeted project execution, in a round of iterations. With independent software modules bundled logically together, the entire project scope is safeguarded while implementing these modules. There is phase-wise project monitoring and hence the least chances of the project going out of scope, time, and efforts.

  • Enhanced User Suitability

Since the basic concept of Agile BI comprises of the end users and the IT department working in close coordination with each other, there is an increased level of user readiness and satisfaction at the end of each module implementation. User engagement is high and agile BI offers good opportunity to the users to provide their feedback and suggestions, making them feel involved and important.

  • Maximized RoI

With shorter cycles of implementation, there is an increased return on investment. There is less involvement of IT staff and time to offer modules to clients. By offering smaller workable modules to users, there are higher chances of getting their return on investment faster. Users can even start using their modules and start experiencing the benefits at a faster pace.

  • Increased Business Competitiveness

With enterprise leveraging the benefits of Agile BI, in terms of flexibility, user-friendliness, cost-effectiveness, goal alignment, etc., there is bound to be a high level of business competitiveness that the organization will enjoy, in a positive mold.

Prime Agile BI Best Practices To Watch For

  • Engaging stakeholders at each phase of the project is essential, for increased stakeholder feedback and higher business value
  • Abiding by changing requirements at each phase of the project, there must be an iterative and incremental approach, in which the needs and infrastructure of the project is viewed at a central level
  • Have a limited amount of documentation only when needed. Unlike the traditional way, there should be the least number of artifacts that the project members need to maintain
  • An agile approach to change management will be beneficial to the organization’s BI approach and will offer an added competitive touch to it
  • Go in for Just In Time Modelling (JIT) that storms the details of the project as it comes, abiding well by the changes that might come across the way
  • Keep testing and watching your BI components like reports/dashboards for accuracy, every while since the agile approach is iterative and changes are bound to happen
  • Make sure the BI software and service provider you choose are competent enough to understand the nuances of the agile way of project management
  • A thorough risk assessment, management and mitigation strategy should be worked upon, at each iteration of the project
  • Follow a usage-centered approach while going in for implementing an Agile BI project, with an increased focus on what the users would like to see
  • Implement iterations strictly based on pre-decided time schedules since that forms the crux of an agile BI approach. Timing allotted to each module should neither be too rigid nor too generous

In a Nutshell

Agile BI has been unleashing the potential of agile software development methodology for use in any segment of business intelligence services. With the above-mentioned advantages, best practices, key features, and more – Agile BI has been instrumental in garnering the best of business benefits for any organization.

Agile BI has embraced change, treating it as an advantage and not a burden. And hence the result is a profitable and productive industry. On an increasing note, businesses are going in for Agile BI to get competitive, flexible, and highly responsive. Business intelligence was anyways weaving magic and now with the agile approach woven to it, Agile BI has a lot of business magic to be witnessed, isn’t it?

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