Give BI Users What They Want -- Within Reason

Ann All

The predicted strong growth in spending on business intelligence is at least partly attributable to companies' desire to take BI out of the hands of specialists and get tools to workers down the food chain. Supporting this idea, research from Heavy Reading Enterprise indicates that ease of use is the top factor in BI buying decisions.


Some 25 percent of respondents to the Heavy Reading Enterprise survey, which was published about a year ago, indicated that more than half of their professional and managerial employees use BI tools at least once a week, a number the research firm predicts will double over the next two years.


In reality, however, unfettered access to BI isn't always a good thing. A recent Computerworld article offers mini-case histories of companies that have learned this the hard way, including Valero Energy Corp. and Del Monte Foods Co.


Because of problems with users running reports on multiple different versions of data, Valero consolidated all of its systems into a single SAP Business Information Warehouse, SAP ERP software and an Oracle data warehouse, moved all report- and query-building functions into its IT department, and chose a single front-end tool for users.


Valero's director of reporting and financial systems tells Computerworld:

"That ensures that we're aware of what the requirements are, that the requests make sense within our infrastructure and that the data is available on a timely and accurate basis."

A similar problem arose at Del Monte when several departments used different sets of business rules and filtering to produce reports, resulting in multiple different versions of the truth. The company's director of business systems and decision support says:

"Too much flexibility and ad hoc capabilities in the hands of the wrong person can result in islands of autonomy, homegrown subsystem processes and the proliferation of multiple versions of the truth."

A Gartner analyst believes that many companies focus more on the sexier aspects of BI, such as user interfaces, instead of the nuts-and-bolts technology used to create reports. Companies also need to put more emphasis on matching appropriate BI tools to different groups of business users, each of which likely has its own set of requirements, says Cindi Howson, author of "Successful Business Intelligence: Secrets to Making BI a Killer App."


Another step that many companies neglect is educating users on how to use all of those BI reports to actually make decisions. Says the Del Monte director:

"Don't assume, 'If we build it, they will come.'

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Sep 22, 2007 11:19 AM Timo lliott Timo lliott  says:
Ultimately, all of these issues have the same roots: (1) not having a team such as a BI competency center responsible for making the right trade-offs between flexibility and autonomy and/or (2) not having the right incentives in place (e.g. many BICCs end up spending too much time on the technology, and not on the business issues.Thanks for the heads-up on the book -- I think you meant to write that author is Cindi Howson"BI Questions Blog Reply
Sep 26, 2007 6:32 PM Ann All Ann All  says:
Thanks for the sharp eyes and thoughtful comment, Timo. Apologies to Cindi for initially getting her name wrong. After 20-plus years as a journalist, I am still mortified when that happens! Reply
Sep 27, 2007 7:59 PM Mike Mike  says:
I have seen it first hand at a corporation I worked at when the user had too much control on requests and not enough resistance from IT. The user interfaces are great to the users but the results they wanted created a backend nightmare in trying to load data and convert it into specific measures and dimensions that our users required. Their needed to be an intermediary to this process to determine what was feasible. Glad I got out. Don't miss the late nights loading data. Reply

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