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Leveraging Information and Intelligence

David Linthicum

3 Things that are Killing Business Intelligence

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Sorry to kick of the week on a negative note, but this post has been a long time in coming. While there are many positive things in the world of business intelligence, there are some forces at work that are taking this space down. It's time to point them out.

1. Some DBAs are killing business intelligence. Those charged with the data have a tendency to push back on the use of that data within business intelligence applications. They are constantly getting in the way of leveraging operational data, and those tasked with making business intelligence work for their enterprise are forced to make some compromises that increase cost, and decrease the effectiveness of BI.

2. Some business intelligence developers are killing business intelligence. There is a lack of real talent out there in and around BI systems development. Indeed, the reasons that many projects fail is due to a lack of skills, not technology or money. You have to be willing to hire the right people and consultants, else your costs actually go way up around the risk. You get what you pay for.

3. Compliance reporting is killing business intelligence. We are focusing way too much on keeping up with the new regulations, rather than assisting those in the business around having the right information to make the right business decisions. I know way too many BI shops that are just focused on compliance, and the value of true BI suffers.

Those are the top three, but of course there is more. I urge you to tell me your thoughts here, what do you think is killing business intelligence?

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I have seen a few IT shops who use BI to create a ton of reports. BI tools are too expensive to be report generators. They should be used for real time KPIs, alerts, subscription services and other proactive measures. Too many companies us it reactively and bury workers with reports and busy portals.

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Three additional "factors that might just kill BI" are these:

4) "Real" information governance takes real commitment. Many organizations don't adequately encourage/promote well-planned information sharing, and as a result, generally fail to connect-the-dots between MY data and YOUR data... If orgs can't get all the fiefdoms to truly commit to sitting down and working through their inter-group governance issues, whether about data quality issues or master-data "ownership" issues, you'll never make that leap to truly useful BI. Inadequate "information governance" is a root-cause issue, and resolving that inadequacy is the cornerstone of a useful BI foundation. Until all an organization's players can commit to "playing nice," -- and staying engaged -- nobody's going to get what they really need: improved decision-making capability. Hire competent staff, then train 'em on how your org's culture really works, and buy into letting 'em make the really hard line-of-business decisions, so your business can use BI to move forward.

5) Vendors don't "get it," and customers aren't accustomed to making it easier for vendors to define adequate BI solutions. Vendors all too often focus first on how to sell their products, and only secondarily on really learning how various business-types function.

A successful BI implementation can and must meet BOTH sets of needs: the customers' and the vendor's. Win/Win isn't just a goal, it's essential to ensuring adoption and sustainability.

More than in any other type of marketing, it's crucial for vendors to put on a different hat, and take the time to actually realize that the "business drivers" for a manufacturer are radically different from those of a public-sector client, such as a Federal or State agency, University/College/Higher Education org or military organization.

Commonly used examples of BI that illustrate financial or manufacturing/supply chain info, such as "inventory turns" or "ROI" might be of interest in an abstract or theoretical sense, but to really resonate with a potential client, wouldn't it be much better to illustrate examples that actually involve the work performed by the customer to whom you're trying to sell? Most public-sector agencies don't exactly think in terms of "widgets/hr" or throughput ratios for inventory, but you can bet that they DO care about other metrics that are focused on what they actually do for a living... and they'd like to believe that BI vendors understand their real business processes. (They'd like to, but sadly, they don't.)

Not every business is for-profit, not every KPI applies generically to all other businesses, and not every stakeholder pictures their business process through the eyes of a profit-driven marketing executive trying to increase market share. In the public-sector, each of those private-sector examples is certainly of theoretical interest, but those, alone, are not the critical success factors (CSFs)we're trying to accomplish. Why not focus on our public-sector CSF-based KPI metrics, too? Come up with some new examples, and it'll be easier for vendors to make the BI case for public-sector clients.
If vendors would make it a point to find both useful examples and a more-context-specific language that resonates with the actual BI-consuming trench-dwellers, they'd find it a lot easier to market the BI capabilities that their products (alledgedly) provide.

BI's adoption, -- and the unbridled evangelism of satisfied users -- will depend on vendors' understanding of this perspective.

6: Not enough BI advocates can answer the toughest question: "So What?" You'll need to be able to explain how to put BI to use, and why it should matter to your sponsor, unless you're secretly just a rabid technophile trying to find new tools to use/learn/enjoy.

If you're not using BI to improve your decision-making capabilities, what ARE you planning to use it for?

Explain that to your funding sponsor! They'll appreciate the context, and will likely have an idea or two of their own for your NEXT Holy Grail!

Industry expert Dave Linthicum tells you what you need to know about building efficiency into the information management infrastructure

David Linthicum

David Linthicum is the CTO of Blue Mountain Labs, and an internationally known distributed computing and application integration expert. View more

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