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In May 2008, a BusinessWeek study indicated that organizations realize greater returns when business intelligence (BI) tools are accessible across the enterprise. Specifically, the report found that the most significant return on investment (ROI) comes from extending these tools to the employees on the front lines, such as telemarketers and collections staff. And, when implemented successfully, BI investments provide organizations with 2.4 times the market returns of other businesses in their industry.

So, if it is simply a matter of making BI more widely accessible, why isn't it common practice? Like most technology decisions in business, there is not one simple answer. While some reasons involve cultural, structural or other company-specific attributes, there are several universal reasons why companies do not give broader access to information. Understanding these reasons will help explain why the vast majority of BI solutions -- 87 percent, according to a 2007 NCC BI Rapid Survey Report -- fail to meet original expectations and, therefore, become a source of frustration rather than ROI. Most notably among these are the limited integration of key data sources, concerns of security and compliance issues involved in information sharing, and the difficulty of the front-line personnel to use these overly complex systems in a meaningful way.

A single source of truth

Access to mission-critical data throughout an enterprise is essential in order to fully leverage investments in information systems. Today, the data integrated by most BI solutions is drawn primarily from central repositories like ERP and CRM systems. Organizations relying on these systems of record often overlook the data stored in secondary stores, such as personal spreadsheets, departmental databases and other ad hoc or shadow systems that likely reside on individual users' desktops. While general-ledger data is essential, the data locked within these secondary systems often carries equivalent importance for decision-makers.

Without complete data transparency across both secondary and primary data repositories, several problems can arise. Most frequently, organizations see accounting discrepancies and errors. Personnel shifts also highlight problems, where the individual responsible for managing that system leaves the organization without clearly outlining how to access and make sense of the data within it. In some very unfortunate situations, lack of transparency opens up opportunity for fraud and regulatory consequences. Above all, limiting a decision maker's access to only primary data sources provides an incomplete picture of the data and denies that individual the mission-critical information that can lead to better strategic insights and actions.


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