The Business Intelligence (BI) Two Tier Support Model

A large number of multinational companies have integrated an external partner to support their IT application systems from an offshore base. There are a number of elements that need to be in place to ensure that this is both efficient and successful within the organisation.

The support operating model within every organisation is different. However the vast majority of cases usually fall into 2 and 3 tier support models. It is our belief that a 2 tier approach is more efficient. In order to best illustrate the reasons for this belief, it is first best to properly define and describe the 2 tier model.

Level 1 and BI Functional Owners

Level 1 sits within the Business Intelligence Competency Centre, which is also known as the Business Intelligence Centre of Excellence. This tier is responsible for engaging with the business and performing basic analysis of incidents. This allows them to engage with the business users and have the support of senior BI functional consultants on incidents that are raised by the business. Level 1 support is usually outsourced, whereas the functional consultants remain on-site.

Depending on the size of the application being supported, it is recommended that there is one senior BI functional consultant per process area in a BICC team. The BI functional owner would engage with the process owner of their area on all changes and enhancements.

A sometimes unclear aspect of the role of a Level 1 employee is the balance required between business and technical skills. Level 1 support deal with the incidents and do the initial analysis from a technical perspective and provide updates in business terms and language. The functional consultants will deal with any questions they have from a functional perspective and engage with process owners. A BI functional consultant will understand BI model and query definitions from a high level, whilst possessing in depth functional knowledge of their own process area. For example, a consultant can be an expert in the finance area, aided by his previous career as an accountant; however he/she is able to efficiently built BI reports and understand how data flows in the business warehouse.

Level 2, Process Owners and Core BI team

This tier is responsible for reviewing the analysis of Level 1 and working on the technical issue of an incident or change control until closure. This requires the use of the BI application documentation as reference, with the support of a mentor if required.

Tier 2 will engage with the BI Core team, where there is a technical process owner for each technical area. Level 2 engage with the technical process owner to review possible technical solutions and get approval for changes ranging from medium to high complexity.

The BI reports are owned by the functional process owners, for example order to cash. The BI process owner needs to review and approve any changes or enhancements to the reports in their area with BICC team. However, the engagement with the functional consultant from BICC for the BI business process owner is only 5% to 10% of their total time.

The utilisation of technical consultants in BI core team and functional consultants in BICC on support activities is between 25 to 50 percent of their time.

We are now able to explore why this 2 tier approach provides a more efficient solution as opposed to a 3 tier approach. Level 3 in a 3 tier support model is basically a split of level 2 (in 2 Tier model) with the experienced consultants been placed in level 3. Firstly, with a 2 tier approach, the Level 2 consultant can take ownership of an issue from the start to the finish and hence can be made accountable. Furthermore the handover time that would exist between Levels 2 and 3 is eliminated, which vastly enhances the efficiency of the entire process. Lastly, the whole objective is to ensure that from Level 1 to Level 2 the process owner is collaborated into the support model; this collaboration is exactly what is achieved with a 2 tier approach.

For a successful support operating model, there are a few more aspects that also need to be considered. It is important that all junior support consultants have a mentor, not just from a technical perspective where an environment is provided for the consultant to constantly learn, but also from a process perspective. In addition, an important aspect in any support model is an incident tool in place that allows the business users / process owners / and support teams to provide status updates on the incidents. Finally, as BI covers a large number of process areas, ranging from finance to procurement, it is crucial to have clear governance and collaboration in place between the 2 tier support teams along with the process owners.

It is worth noting that the specific details described in the article is for a global roll out of SAP BI with more than five thousand users. For a smaller SAP BI roll out with less than five thousand users, it would be necessary to scale the approach down, whilst maintaining the same structure. One to two functional and technical consultants would be sufficient in BICC and BI core teams, with just one to two process owners owning all the BI functional requirements.

In 2017, I have managed the above 2 Tier support model working with an offshore support model which deployed over 400 change controls (break-fix, minor enhancements and performance improvements) to production. From speaking with other BAU BI support managers this model is 2 to 3 times more productive than their 3 Tier support models - evidence that this model is efficient!

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