Aligning BI with Business Strategy

How a Mission Mapped Architecture can help

by John Bair, Stephen Fox, Morgan Hunt, and Dan Meers
Senior Principals, Knightsbridge Solutions, Inc.


A recent survey conducted by The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) found that successful business intelligence initiatives are almost five times more likely to have project teams in which IT is “very aligned” with the business. TDWI defines successful BI initiatives as those that support critical business processes, are seen by users as mission critical, and are meeting users’ needs. While all organizations begin their BI initiatives with the expectation of success, many struggle to align their technology approach to BI with specific business goals and objectives and as a result, deliver solutions that fail to meet business needs.

Although most BI professionals would agree that an “If you build it, they will come” approach is likely to fail, organizational and political realities often prevent BI efforts from being fully aligned with the business. Do any of the following scenarios describe your organization?

  • In an effort to anticipate users’ needs, IT has begun to invest in BI technologies without business sponsorship and involvement.
  • Business units and departments are building their own BI infrastructures because of a poor relationship with IT.
  • IT believes the business doesn’t understand the importance of BI and isn’t in a position to articulate requirements, so it’s up to IT to provide the right solution.
  • A powerful executive is excited about the promise of BI technology and pushes to go ahead with or without business/IT alignment.

It can be difficult to get around these organizational and political issues to open up the lines of communication between business and IT. And even if business and IT have a great relationship in your organization, you might need a more structured approach for helping promote a common understanding around the alignment of business goals and objectives for BI with the technology investments being made to support them.

That’s where a Mission Mapped Architecture (MMA) comes in. A subset of a broader business alignment methodology based on mission and strategy mapping, the approach melds business strategy mapping with information management strategy generation to provide a continuous alignment process. Mission Mapped Architecture is focused on data and related architectural requirements of BI programs. Its output informs and guides the design process used by the BI program to reflect and satisfy business imperatives.

An MMA is developed through a “step-down” process that creates specific linkages between a high-level set of business needs for information and the technical architecture designed to support those needs. The linkage is achieved by “stepping down” from a high-level, business-driven mission statement to a set of more specific business and IT objectives, then to a set of specific implementation criteria, and finally to the conceptual design of a long-term technical architecture for an improved BI program. Each step in the process is linked to its predecessor and validated by both the business and IT communities, ensuring that the initial mission is supported.

This method of architectural definition and validation ensures that the business understands how the chosen design and implementation approach to BI architecture maps to the goals and objectives they have set for the BI program. In this way, the MMA provides for dual authorship of your BI architecture, joining business imperatives with technology expertise. The MMA approach gives you a structured method for involving both the business and IT in your BI efforts and builds credibility and momentum for your initiatives. Let’s take a look at the steps involved in the MMA development process.

Gathering Initial Requirements

In order to begin the MMA process, you need to understand the business drivers for improved business intelligence. Gathering business driver information involves first identifying the leaders of your organization’s “information customer groups.” These individuals should be at a decision-making level of management, responsible for setting business goals and direction for their group. You should meet with each individual to discuss the general function of his or her group and try to identify, at a high level, what decisions the group is making and what information they need to make those decisions in an informed manner. This will help you identify the business drivers for business intelligence in your organization and will serve as the basis for drafting a “straw man” business mission statement for your BI program.

Writing your BI Program Mission Statement

After you’ve collected information on your organization’s business drivers, the MMA definition process begins with the creation and validation of a business-based mission statement for your BI program. The group of key business leaders (individuals who lead the functional departments identified as potential users of BI) should be brought together to discuss and come to consensus on a business mission statement for your BI program. These working sessions are structured to provide a careful blend of brainstorming and group resolution and validation. A trained or experienced facilitator provides structure, guidance and cadence to ensure productive outcomes.

The group can start from scratch, although it is often very helpful to use a straw man mission statement (drafted based on business driver interview information) to discuss, modify, and validate. The mission statement should be drafted in such a way that its applicability could be extended beyond the initial BI program scope and be applied to a true enterprise scope. The mission statement should address the information content and access capabilities necessary to support the general business drivers previously discussed.

Here is an example of a BI program mission statement:

“The mission of the BI program is the empowerment of business improvement opportunities for its sponsors through the delivery of information to the business community reflective of business processes and outcomes with appropriate level(s) of formatting, timeliness, history, detail and quality to provide a reliable foundation for targeted business improvements.”

Parsing the mission statement to clarify meaning

In order to promote a common understanding and to facilitate consensus and validation of the mission statement, it may be useful to parse the mission statement. This process is undertaken using input from original interviews with information customer group leaders. This information is essential to accurately dissect the mission statement. Organizations often choose to customize a draft or straw statement based on the information provided in interviews. Parsing the initial mission statement can stimulate discussion around the relevance of each piece, as well as facilitate a better understanding of its overall meaning. Here is an example of how the BI program mission statement above can be parsed:

“The mission of the BI program is the empowerment of business improvement opportunities for its sponsors through the delivery of information to the business community reflective of business processes and outcomes with appropriate level(s) of formatting, timeliness, history, detail and quality to provide a reliable foundation for targeted business improvements.

Most initial mission statement attempts will not parse so easily as they are not written for this purpose. Some time and revision is needed to establish a strong statement with appropriate levels of detail. Let’s look at the first three areas of the statement to determine possible strategic objectives:

Empowerment of business improvement opportunities for its sponsors … The business sponsorship group seeks specific business (financial) improvements requiring improved information delivery via this program. Typically this is the first step toward defining financially desirable business outcomes from enhanced decision support and analysis.

… delivery of information to the business community reflective of business processes and outcomes … a formal requirement of this mission is proactive delivery of business information in a manner reflective of processes and outcomes. This is not trivial because information is not pre-formatted to reflect its origins. By referring to processes and outcomes, this portion of the mission statement avoids a major pitfall. Information intended for delivery must be designed and integrated in a manner consistent with the business processes from which it is generated. For example, many source systems may contain information regarding customer activity and status. These sources must not be the basis for the final information, but rather for the information architecture (design).

… with appropriate level(s) of formatting, timeliness, history, detail and quality … The information delivered through the BI program must be modeled to allow users to view information under a variety of business structures and hierarchies. The design must also be flexible to allow those structures to be updated as business organizations and processes change over time. The BI program must support changing business structures and states, not just structures that are relevant at the time of initial design and deployment. It also must support different requirements from different business user groups across time.

Parsing the mission statement in this way eliminates ambiguity and helps a wider audience understand the reasoning behind its creation and its implications for the organization’s BI efforts. It also creates the basis for defining strategic objectives that are directly derived from the language of the mission statement.

Creating a Set of Strategic Objectives

Once the mission statement has been created and validated, a group of key business architects are identified to define and ratify the strategic objectives that follow from the mission statement with more specific and actionable statements around the goals of the BI program. These objectives should then map to a parsed version of the mission to ensure that all aspects of the mission are supported by the set of objectives.

We now have identified three distinct strategic objectives from the mission statement:

  1. Provide business sponsors with clear opportunities to improve their business performance through information delivery.
  2. Deliver information to the business community reflective of its processes and there outcomes.
  3. Provide appropriate levels of formatting, timeliness, history, detail and quality as are specified in business validated release or project specifications.

As you can see, these strategic objectives are high-level action statements that address enabling the various aspects of the mission. During this process, it is acceptable for the group to make slight changes to the mission statement in order to properly align the objectives.

Generating Strategic Measures

A combined group of business and technology leaders dedicated to the BI program can generate meaningful measures for its success from the forgoing work. It is important to note that these are not data architecture measures; they are strategic business measures for the performance of the program against the strategic objectives. This enables IT to understand the basis for their performance reviews, funding process and sponsorship support. It also serves to further decompose the business semantic to a level at which translation into a technical semantic can be accomplished.

Once these are drafted, a simple table or template can be constructed tracking the lineage of the mission statement to strategic objective to strategic measure. This provides a summary document for validation with various sponsors and stewards as well as a change control platform.

Generating and Validating Your Requirements

The next step in the MMA definition process is to translate the business semantic into the basis for an IT semantic. This translation process takes the strategic objectives and measures and derives more technical program requirements. These are expressed in business terms but are developed specifically to support more technical requirements and program standards going forward. These will support reference architecture standards as well as specific program requirements at the information architecture level.

The process of deriving and defining key program requirements is more involved than time and space permit here. An example of one set of requirements that follows logically from its precedents might be as follows:

Once established and validated with business, these requirements may be taken by IT management and used to generate program specifications and planning details. This is a key activity in the MMA process in that the business is now handing off the process to its IT counterparts for more detailed design. By validating the business mission and objectives, the business group is giving IT a clear set of requirements that have been developed cooperatively and are understood equally by both groups.

Validation is an integral part of the MMA development process and should not be shortchanged. One of Gartner’s “seven fatal mistakes” for architecture initiatives is not communicating with the business until the architecture is done. Attempting to develop an architecture in a vacuum will lead to a lack of acceptance from the business community, and a wasted investment of time and money. As Gartner says, “Architecture is all about communication.”

Creating a BI Architecture Criteria

After the requirements have been validated, your IT personnel should break out into subgroups (delineated by area of responsibility/expertise) to create the design criteria necessary to support the agreed-upon objectives. These criteria will be composed of specific action statements that must be accomplished in order to achieve the desired objectives. The architectural criteria will serve to scope, guide, and constrain the design and implementation approach of your BI technical architecture.

The criteria are normally organized into three implementation components:

  1. Project criteria
  2. Release criteria
  3. Solution criteria

When taken as a whole, the criteria completely and concisely fulfill the objectives previously defined. The graphic below depicts the relationship of the three criteria categories.

A Release is the delivery of data to the BI program that satisfies the information requirements of one or more projects or phases.

A Project is a coordinated set of activities to develop or deliver an application to business users. Projects may deliver reporting and analytic functionality to a set of specific business users in phases.

A Solution is the complete packaging of a comprehensive BI solution to business users. It uses a foundation of four pillars or solution architecture; data, process, organization and includes both a data component and an application component. Data and application components can be tightly or loosely coupled so that releases and projects may be delivered jointly or separately. For example, it may be desirable to schedule releases that add subject area coverage or additional data that requires no changes to existing BI applications. Similarly, projects may add new analytic capabilities that do not require additional data. But sometimes linkage is either desirable or unavoidable.

Once the breakout groups have developed the implementation criteria for their area of responsibility, all IT participants are brought together to review and discuss the overall set of criteria. The criteria are also mapped to the set of objectives to ensure complete coverage. Note that the criteria need not be validated by the business, as many of the criteria will be technical in nature. The business should have access to the criteria-to-objectives mapping so that interested parties can review and ask questions about the relationship between the validated objectives and the resulting implementation criteria.

Mapping, Gapping, and Validating

You’re now ready to map and gap your current BI architecture against each of the individual architecture criteria to identify areas that must be enhanced to ensure full support of the mission statement and business expectations. These enhancements then can be assembled to create a long-term technical architecture approach, which should be validated against any known and specific (documented) BI requirements. You should map each documented set of requirements to the long-term technical architecture approach to verify that the functionality required is supported. In this way, the architecture approach is tested against the specific, known functionality requirements that will most likely be implemented in initial phases.

Once the end-state architecture is validated and cost-beneficial enhancements are identified, phased implementation planning, resource identification, cost estimation, and funding approval for a phased program for improving your BI program can begin.

Conclusions and Next Steps

A Mission Mapped Architecture provides the tools you need to align your BI efforts with your business strategy, goals, and objectives. Business/IT alignment leads to increased user acceptance and amplifies the benefits received from your BI investment.

It may be worthwhile to consider your current BI program and its alignment with its business sponsorship’s mission. Attempt to create a “straw model” mission map for your BI program and validate it with your sponsors. Consider the broader implications of your translation of strategic objectives and measures into BI program architecture requirements. What is your process for this translation? How can you demonstrate its consistency with business-based objectives? What is the capacity of the current program to accommodate this set of requirements?


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About the Authors

John Bair has more than 15 years of experience building business information software and systems. He has developed and supported numerous full lifecycle applications and data management solutions. His experience spans a broad range of industries, including manufacturing, distribution, retail, and services. For the past seven years, Mr. Bair has focused on the application of scalable technologies to produce high-performance data management systems that return real value to enterprises. He has been involved in the development and application of business intelligence technologies since the early days of data warehousing. Mr. Bair holds several data management technology patents and is a leading practitioner in the field of enterprise business intelligence architectures. He has presented best practices for architecting and implementing enterprise data warehouse and business intelligence systems at conferences internationally, including DB Expo and OracleWorld.

Stephen Fox has more than 30 years of experience delivering business value to corporations through the launch and management of technical organizations in domestic and international markets. He has a proven track record with business unit executives in developing strategies for increasing operational efficiencies, delivering shareholder value with new product offerings, and enhancing consumer/business relationships. He is a proven technology manager and designer/developer in the private and public sectors of many industries, including manufacturing, retail, financial services, telecommunications, healthcare, transportation, government, and education. His expertise spans full lifecycle business systems development; business process change management; enterprise architecture; and data warehouse and data mart architecture, design, and implementation. For four years, Mr. Fox led his own technology consulting business.

Morgan Hunt is a senior principal with Knightsbridge Solutions. Mr. Hunt has over 15 years of experience in data warehousing, financial management, accounting, and accounting systems for core and supporting financial process. He focuses exclusively on providing business-based strategic planning and design through the management and execution of strategic services. In doing so, Mr. Hunt has developed a strong team of analysts that specialize in creating, documenting, and presenting highly successful business-based strategies for improving information access capabilities.

Dan Meers is a Senior Principal at Knightsbridge Solutions specializing in strategy and design. He has two collaborative book credits and remains a Bill Inmon partner through his founder status at Inmon Data Systems. Dan has worked with Bill Inmon, John Zachman and Derek Strauss to create process driven approaches to business modeling for BI. His current work focuses on the application of this process driven approach to various high speed BI outcomes.

About Knightsbridge Solutions

Knightsbridge Solutions is a professional services firm exclusively focused on business intelligence and data warehousing solutions. The company offers services in information strategy, data integration, business intelligence, and data warehousing, with a specialization in “big-data” solutions for those with high data volumes or complex information challenges. Knightsbridge serves Fortune 500 clients in financial services, insurance markets, retail and consumer products, health and life sciences, high technology, entertainment, federal government, and other industries. Contact Knightsbridge Solutions, 500 West Madison, Suite 3100, Chicago, IL 60661, Phone: 800.669.1555. Check


Bair, J., S. Fox, M. Hunt, and D. Meers, "Aligning BI with Business Strategy: How a Mission Mapped Architecture can help ", DSSResources.COM, 09/10/2005.

Michelle Smyth, Public Relations Manager, Knightsbridge Solutions provided permission to archive and feature this article at DSSResources.COM on Friday, July 29, 2005. Copyright (c) Knightsbridge Solutions LLC All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. July 2005. This article was posted at DSSResources.COM on September 10, 2005.