Business Intelligence Making Strides, But Small Ones

Ann All

As Christmas approaches, business intelligence projects are at the top of many executives' wish lists.BI is one of the areas on which they'll spend scarce funds in the coming year.


Not to go all Grinch on you, but the latest survey by BI Scorecard found the success rates of BI deployments largely unchanged from the last survey in 2007.


According to InformationWeek, just 21 percent of respondents rated their BI deployments very successful. Twenty-nine percent of BI deployments were slightly successful and the biggest percentage, 47 percent, were moderately successful. (I assume the remaining 3 percent weren't successful.) The number of respondents who said BI had a significant impact on their organizations fell from 32 percent in 2007 to 25 percent this year.


On a more positive note, 85 percent of BI projects have executive-level sponsorship, which is considered a key to success, and the report saw increases in the number of companies that had standardized on a BI platform. Of course, not everyone believes a platform approach is the most logical way to approach BI, as I wrote earlier this year.


While BI Scorecard found the overall number of employees using BI remained stuck at 24 percent, there were increases in the numbers of front-line and field workers using BI, which has been a goal for many companies. Again, not everyone is convinced of the importance of expanding the numbers of BI users. When I interviewed Nigel Pendse, author of an annual BI Survey that is billed as the largest independent survey of BI and performance management users, he told me:

... A BI tool is for somebody who makes decisions with some latitude. If your decision-making is completely constrained, you don't need a BI tool. I just went on a trip. I certainly wouldn't want pilots getting their information about fuel from a BI tool! The plane has operational systems to show them what's happening. I don't want them sitting there doing analyses about optimizing fuel usage. Somebody at the head office may do that, but the guys flying the plane don't need to worry about it. Or even at the airport. There might be thousands of people working there, but I can only think of maybe a hundred who could conceivably get any value out of a BI tool.

BI Scorecard taps data quality, reliability of BI systems and access to relevant data as the make-it-or-break-it technical factors that determine whether a BI initiative will be successful. "Relevant" is the operative word in "access to relevant data."


About a month ago, IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard wrote about an IBM project to ascribe context to each piece of data as it is collected, in theory making it more relevant. Under the scenario IBM engineer Jeff Jonas envisions, new data would then inform other applicable data sets about its context. The context surrounding the data would be continuously updated and inform related sets of data about any changes in context. Wrote Vizard:

To achieve context today, we take samples of data sets and make a "best guess" about the context of the information. That best guess, however, is very dependent on both the quality of the information and the assumption that there are no missing variables that could render the data model irrelevant. Given how often end users complain about how IT reports don't reflect the true state of the business, clearly the amount of poor quality data coupled with missing critical components of a data model is having a negative impact on the value that end users place on BI applications. Many of them would much rather rely on spreadsheets, where they can better assign all the variables, than a report from IT. It's only when the problem scales beyond human ability to process on a spreadsheet that we see business users acquiescing.

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