A large number of business intelligence (BI) users admit they don’t effectively use it to identify and create opportunities for sustainable growth, according to a study.

Their honesty isn’t surprising, but the high level of misused BI is.

The astonishing results were revealed by Forrester Research consultants Martha Bennett and Boris Evelson in a 2013 ComputerWeekly.com article.

BI is commonly used by business for renovation of raw data into salient data.

Common utilities range from analytics to business-performance management in decision making.

That might be for business process optimization, enhancing customer service, market expansion or marketing.

The Forrester consultants wrote:

“Business users’ complaints about their ability to access the data they need to support a decision when they need it from their enterprise BI applications include, for example: insufficient or inaccessible data, excessive or ‘wrong’ data, untrustworthy data, unacceptably long turnaround times for new reports or other BI capabilities, or BI tools that just are not right for the job.”

In fact, Forrester’s study produced surprising answers from BI users, for example:

– Only 54 percent indicate they’re “successful” or “very successful” in making informed business decisions.

– Only 36 percent are “successful” or “very successful” in improving customer interaction and satisfaction.

– Only 28 percent are “successful” or “very successful” in gaining a competitive advantage.

What we found is that methodologies, tools, and processes certainly help deliver successful BI projects, but can’t make the difference between failure and success on their own,” wrote Ms. Bennett and Mr. Evelson.

They provided three solutions:

Best practice tip No. 1: Put the business into business intelligence

This may sound like a foregone conclusion, but it isn’t. Some BI projects fail at an early stage; others go right through to final delivery and signoff before someone declares they don’t meet expectations. The most commonly cited reason in all cases is a lack of involvement from the business, either at the executive or subject matter expert level — or most often both. But it’s about more than just having a business sponsor and a set of requirements — it’s about having the relationships and processes in place that ensure collaboration with business executives.

Best practice tip No. 2: Be agile and aim to deliver self-service

Even the best-planned and -supported BI deployment will not achieve the desired result if the chosen development methodology isn’t suited to delivering a BI initiative. One way to maximise the chances of BI project success, is to use agile methods where possible. Note that this doesn’t have to be “agile” in the strict sense of following a set methodology. For the majority of experts we spoke with, it’s about being “agile” and taking an iterative approach, with the emphasis on breaking all elements of a project into the smallest possible chunks, working collaboratively, and reviewing tangible deliverables frequently.

Best practice tip No. 3: Put a solid governance foundation in place

In the context of BI, there are two key aspects to governance: data governance and governance of the BI deployment itself. In order to use data to improve operational efficiency and gain competitive advantage, organisations first need to understand what data they have available from internal and external sources and the value that this data has in terms of process improvement, decision-making, development of new products and services, and so on. They also need to be clear how they define each data item and what internal and external rules apply to the capture, storage, and further processing of such data. BI governance covers rules and processes pertaining to report creation, ownership, distribution, and usage, as well as prioritisation of must-have and nice-to-have capabilities. 

In her separate blog on Forrester.com, without explanation, Ms. Bennett provided three additional best practices:

– Select the most appropriate tool set.

– Seek external help if needed.

– Make change management and training an integral part of any BI initiative.

She also listed six pitfalls to avoid:

– Taking an IT-led approach may seem easier.

– Choosing too rigid a process – or none at all.

– Treating governance as an afterthought – or overdoing it.

– Allowing technology selection by accident.

– Abdicating your responsibilities after you’ve brought in external partners to assist.

– Focusing on technology development and roll-out rather than change management and training.

Obviously, if BI isn’t working for you, it’s time to adapt in order to win. For starters, my sense is IT must learn to work with the business side.

From the Coach’s Corner, IT professionals have long suffered from an image problem for not understanding the business side.

Here are four recommended articles:

Two Studies Indicate Need for IT Pros to Get Businesslike – CEOs have long complained to me about information technology. They complain about high-priced consultants, and that IT projects are too expensive and fail to yield a return on investment. Indeed, two 2011 studies underscored the need for IT professionals to become more businesslike. 

How CIOs Can Get More Respect in the C-Suite – Despite the importance of their work, chief information officers have difficulty earning respect from senior executives. Here’s what to do about it. 

4 Recommendations to Avoid Spending Too Much on IT – To take advantage of big cost savings in information technology, a study says businesses need to change their buying habits.

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”

-Gertrude Stein


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is also a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.