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Scaling data-driven business transformation with centres of excellence

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Dell server 2Where are you on your journey to realize the full value of insights you’re getting from your mountains of data? You’ve probably had success improving the data landscape in some pockets of your organization. You might even have some believers who support the idea of taking business intelligence (BI) to the next level to drive analytics maturity. But how can you make that the norm across your organization?

At Dell, we’ve found it takes a joint business and IT effort to make BI data more useful and predictive. As I discussed in my previous blog post “Business leaders, IT team up to transform business intelligence at Dell,” we started our journey by forming a BI council with executive representatives across IT and business units, and gave them the mission of pointing the way forward. One of their best ideas was to create BI Centers of Excellence (CoEs) for disciplines such as sales, marketing, operations and finance.

Today, these CoEs are accelerating user access to standardized data and key performance indicators (KPIs), driving advanced reporting and analytics capabilities to quickly turn data into insights, and helping multiple business units improve data quality and governance by leveraging big data architecture and platforms. Let’s look at some key considerations that go into developing successful CoEs.

Centralized, decentralized — or both?

If you want to establish CoEs, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is how to configure the centers. Do you go with a completely centralized model? Or do you embed BI and analytics within your business units? Decentralized models can lead to fragmentation and duplicate effort, and lack coordinated output. Ultimately, they can cause confusion over the “truth” and introduce inefficiencies in how data is extracted, manipulated, reported and presented. On the other hand, centralized models tend to lack sufficient business and domain knowledge, which is essential to ensure work being performed really addresses business needs.

We learned that what works best for Dell is a hub-and-spoke, or hybrid, model. For example, we have a sales CoE with spokes into business units including regions, product/pricing, services, enterprise solutions and end-user computing. The CoE provides standardized processes, best practices, learnings, governance, reporting and analytics support. We also have embedded analytics teams close to where the burning questions and domain knowledge lie, and maintained small dedicated analytics teams in the business units and regions. However, as we increasingly adopt standard KPIs and data sources throughout the company, the CoEs are providing more analytics and insights than traditionally available, so we see a shift occurring in this model where more work is being produced in the CoE and less outside the CoE.

The hub-and-spoke model helps ensure business units can speed decision-making while leveraging the efficiency, standardization and scale delivered by centralization. Our operations CoE provides a good example of this efficiency. It offers reporting and analytics support for nine global functions ranging from worldwide sales operations and fulfillment to manufacturing and the supply chain. Previously, most of the BI capacity for operations was consumed by reporting. Now, by producing reports more efficiently with fewer resources, the operations CoE can shift capacity and talent to analytical work and draw closer correlations between sales and operations data.

CoE achievements

At Dell, we wasted no time in getting right down to implementation. We created, launched and scaled the CoE model across functions including sales, operations, marketing and finance. And we’re establishing governance processes such as intake, KPIs and spend control across the CoEs. These actions allow the CoEs to drive transformation of the business in partnership with IT. To date, our CoE initiative has been quite successful, generating many IT and business benefits across the company:

  • An optimized data infrastructure has resulted in millions of dollars in cost savings, freeing up budget for investment in advanced analytics and the hiring and retention of data scientists.
  • Standard KPIs mean executives see the same report, enabling them to focus less on the data itself and more on the meaning and insights revealed by the data. For example, we have identified a list of KPIs that we have standardized across the company, and these are now used in all operations or business reviews as a consistent way of measuring performance.
  • With improved data quality, the accuracy of reports and trust in data has increased.
  • The combination of standard KPIs, improved data quality and optimized infrastructure means we have substantially greater ability to perform not only descriptive analytics, but to do even more predictive and prescriptive analytics, apply machine learning and embed these outputs into our business management systems — so we can make better and faster decisions than ever before.
  • Performance of the sales business management system (BMS) has improved by 60 percent.
  • The Dell marketing department won the Sirius Decisions 2015 Measurement Process Program of the Year Award for its analytics work.

Other actions we’ve taken include standardizing our data visualization tools, migrating from SAS to the Dell Statistica analytics platform and consulting with customers about our best practices. We’re on a path to self-service analytics, so business units will have more time to focus on insights and business decision-making. And all of this has come about through ongoing IT and business alignment, and business governance through the CoEs.

A key learning: Value of the BI council

Looking back, we made a good decision when we set up an executive council with representatives across IT, marketing, sales, services, software, human resources, operations, finance and other business units. Close cooperation — both between IT and the business and between the CoEs and the various functional areas — has been essential to our success so far. Having strong support from our executive leadership team has also been instrumental in this success. Of course, we still have a way to go. We look forward to letting you know about our progress and learnings as we continue our big data and analytics journey.

To learn more about the advantages of using CoEs to boost your big data and analytics capabilities, read the Dell case study, “Unlocking data’s value for better insights and decisions.”

 

Doug Hillary

Doug Hillary

Doug Hillary is vice president in Global Sales Operations (GSO), responsible for leading the Dell Performance Analytics Group. Hillary has accountability for the strategy, planning and delivery of reporting and analytics for global sales and operations functions. He serves as the executive leader of the sales and operations business intelligence (BI) Centers of Excellence (CoE), which are responsible for helping meet Dell’s long-term goals of BI transformation. Hillary also leads the Dell BI Council, which drives pan-Dell BI and big data strategy and investments.

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