TD Ameritrade launches BI competency center

After Ameritrade Holding Group finished its acquisition of TD Waterhouse Group in April, it launched a business intelligence competency center made up of business users whose charter is to monitor and manage TD Ameritrade Holding's BI investments to make sure they yield results.

The notion of a BI competency center is growing as companies seek a more formal way to expand BI from individual departments to an enterprisewide endeavor governed by corporate polices and best practices.

M.C. Sankar, vice president of enterprise applications development at TD Ameritrade, spoke at Computerworld U.S's BI Perspectives conference yesterday about his company's efforts to build a competency center as it works to embed BI analysis about clients into front-line workers' processes. The competency center, which TD Ameritrade operates virtually, is key to making decisions based on facts obtained through BI analysis, he said.

"Business users have to become part and parcel of this process," he said. "[The competency center] is the basic framework that will make our BI investment work."

Ameritrade's competency center arose from the need for more advanced BI capabilities after adding in the client base acquired through TD Waterhouse. It includes 10 representatives from different areas of the business who spend 40 percent to 50 percent of their time working for the center. Sankar opted not to take the users out of their regular jobs because then "they may lose the influence they have in the business."

The team is responsible for gathering requirements for BI projects, designing those projects and prioritizing them. "They are the ones who make sure there is a good data quality check," he said. "If there are issues, they will go back to the stewards of data in the business organizations."

One of the first tasks for the team is coming up with common metadata -- or data definitions -- that users from finance, human resources, sales, marketing and other departments can agree on.

The competency center grew out of a previous data warehouse council within Ameritrade that was formed in 2004 to handle and prioritize requests from the business related to the data warehouse. "We wanted to improve the lack of prioritization and the lack of focus from the delivery team," Sankar said.

The council helped the company achieve a more disciplined approach to delivering requests from business users, he said. As a result, it provided business users "complete transparency into what was going on in these projects."

The council ranked every request for the value it would bring the business to help it pick projects, Sankar said. Then council members could see "which requests had more value to the firm, not just to their department."

However, the council did have problems, such as failing to anticipate needs rather than just responding to them. "We thought we would get further along with our data quality and data stewardship program, [and] that did not happen," he said.

But now, the competency center team has become a cheerleader for the various BI initiatives and can communicate to IT any problems a line of business might have with a project. "They become passionate about this, and they take it back to their business units," Sankar said. "It creates that collaborative force ... that will help us anticipate needs of BI."

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