Business Intelligence Competency Centers (BICC) are growing fast, according to a new survey by Capgemini Norway. Gartner defines a BICC as a cross functional team actively supporting and promoting the effective use of Business Intelligence across the organization. The primary driver for establishing a BICC is to clear away the walls between business and technology departments in developing and operating Business Intelligence solutions. The BICC model seems to work very well – in fact, we are led to wonder why it is only applied to BI. This gives us reason to argue that Gartner’s definition of BICC might be too limited.

The idea of a BICC is to put the people who know how to use information (the business people) in the same room as the people who know how to develop and operate the BI solutions (the tech guys). A BICC is not a project, but a permanent unit in the organization. This presents opportunities for better collaboration and more business-oriented BI development. Typical gains reported by participants in the survey are the increased use of BI solutions, more self-served BI users, better data quality and better collaboration between business and IT resources.

The current growth rate of BICCs in Norway is high: 8 of the 17 companies in our survey have established a BICC sometime during the past three years, while the remaining companies have plans to do so in the near future. In the study we have also tried to gain insight into how these competency centers work, and what the real-life BICC models (as opposed to theoretical models) actually look like. Our findings provide some interesting supplements to the existing BICC literature you would typically find at Amazon’s virtual bookshelf.

To begin with, we can ascertain that no two BICCs are the same. Depending on the organizational structure and needs, the competency centers will have different mandates, responsibilities, composition, organizational model and activity level. However, there are some typical patterns and commonalities that are emerging. We have in our analysis identified these as five BICC stereotypes:

  • Strategic BICC (The visionaries)
  • Knowledge BICC (The competency network)
  • Operational BICC (The doers)
  • Standardizing BICC (The methodologists)
  • Universal BICC (The umbrella)

The main distinction between these stereotypes is what they do. Is the perspective of their activities long-term or short-term, and are tasks of the BICC high on the business agenda or on the IT agenda? Furthermore, each stereotype has some typical organizational characteristics and help facilitate different types of benefits for the organization. This is described more thoroughly in our analysis.

Secondly, the activities in real-life BICCs aren’t necessarily limited to BI, although the data warehouse(s) are usually central. The businesses we’ve spoken to include user groups that don’t recognize that what they do is Business Intelligence. In addition to controller functions and statistical analysis groups, risk and actuary groups as well as marketing and CRM departments are included, who use data for more operational purposes. One company we spoke to considers document management and archiving functions as natural inclusions in a BICC. Why not?

In conclusion, we find that the original Gartner definition is too limited, both concerning the BICC’s mandate (as can be seen from the wide variety of stereotypes) and in that the model does not need to be constrained to BI purposes. Perhaps it is more correct to discuss Information Competency Centers, rather than BICCs? And, to take the point even further – can’t the model be used for completely different areas of the IT portfolio as well? IT functions are means to an end, and the owners of those ends are the ones who should be driving the development of those functions. We like that a BICC model has been found and put to use in order to bridge the gap in BI between IT and business departments, and we expect to see the experience from this process used in new areas in the future.

By Jan Fredrik Stoveland-Alfsen and Gøran Berntsen