The first thought that struck me after reading this article on the Data Warehousing Institute's Web site about avoiding common problems in business intelligence implementations was that most of the thoughts from analyst firm Gartner could easily apply to any tech implementation.
Still, I feel compelled to share. I am a big fan of this kind of "eat your vegetables" advice. (By that, I mean that most folks possess an intuitive understanding that these are best practices. There are plenty of studies that provide statistical proof. Yet lots of folks go ahead and ignore the advice. Maybe if we repeat it another couple of dozen times ...)
Many of the problems go back to a lack of IT/business alignment. From a Gartner news release:
... there is far more risk in non-technology issues -- [i.e.,] sponsorship, politics, data quality, and so on -- than in deploying the infrastructure, tools, and applications that support BI.
User adoption, for instance, is a major problem, probably because business folks may think IT doesn't give their opinions enough consideration. The remedy, says Gartner, is to involve business users in the project planning and management stages of a BI project. Creating a BI competency center is also a good idea. These ideas were echoed in my interview with Lyndsay Wise, the principal of WiseAnalytics, which advises companies on BI and master data management. She said:
... get the business unit more involved. More super users within the business so that not only are end users not always going back to IT, but also those issues of whether something will work or how well it will work are determined by the business. Once the business adopts BI and likes it, they'll see other uses for it and want to use it more.
Some of Gartner's other suggestions:
- Users unwilling to give up Excel? Get a strong executive sponsor to promote the importance of the kind of transparency that's not possible with spreadsheets.
- Process controls and/or automated tools can help improve data quality. Automating data process and analysis activities was one of the key best practices identified by Aberdeen Group in its study of companies it termed best-in-class in their BI efforts.
- While a platform approach seems convenient and promises tight integration, comparison shopping is still a good idea. Consider products from both mainstream vendors like IBM/Cognos and SAP/Business Objects and best-of-breed providers like SAS and MicroStrategy. Focus on features/functionality, TCO and integration/interoperability with existing assets. Earlier this week, I wrote about some of the advantages of working with an independent BI vendor.
- Implement a review process that ensures user feedback is heard and considered and to help avoid feature obsolescence.
- Don't outsource a BI initiative, unless it's a solution temporarily employed while internal folks build the necessary expertise and/or the company makes needed infrastructure investments.
- Don't view dashboards as ends in themselves. Best to heed the advice of Mark Throssell, co-founder and CEO of BI visualization specialist The Ministry of Ideas, whom I interviewed earlier this year. Without a commitment to aligning data with business goals, said Throssell, companies will end up with pretty yet meaningless dashboards. He said: "In order for visualized BI, or any BI for that matter, to be useful it has to tap into the key resources of the enterprise."
- Focus on strategic rather than tactical BI benefits. Assemble a team of folks from both business and IT to codify (and periodically revise) BI strategy documents.