Neither IT Nor Business Should Go Its Own Way on BI

Slide Show

The Wisdom of BI Crowds

A study by Dresner Advisory Services suggests that business users are winning the war with IT over business intelligence. Most new BI projects appear to be small in scope, and to favor emerging BI vendors.

With almost any technology initiative, there seems to be a lot of discussion about who drives the initiative, business or IT. Since the ultimate aim of the technology is to fill business needs and enable business goals, most folks come out in favor of business as the driver I think there's a problem with this debate. It positions one side as issuing orders and the other following them. Even if that's true at some level, I think presenting it this way breeds bad feelings and can send tech projects off the rails.


Business users with an attitude of "we don't need IT" can and do make mistakes that cause problems. Sometimes IT is summoned to fix them and does so with a superior, "I told you so" attitude, which engenders even more acrimony. IT departments with an attitude of "we are in charge" can and do produce solutions that don't satisfy business requirements or are so difficult to use that most business folks won't even try. Sometimes business is brought in to address this and does so with a superior, "I told you so" attitude and, well you know the rest.


Not long ago, I argued for what I called a co-dependent approach to business intelligence, one in which business users and IT must support each other or both will suffer. That's not what is happening today, however -- at least not the supporting part. I suspect there may be some suffering -- based on results of a new market study produced by Dresner Advisory Services, a consulting company led by former Gartner analyst Howard Dresner, the man credited with coining the term "business intelligence" in 1989.


The study, called "The Wisdom of Crowds," divides the BI vendor market into three segments: Titans, Established Pure-Plays and Emerging Vendors. While IT departments favor Titans and Established Pure-Plays, business users prefer Emerging Vendors, including open source and software-as-a-service options. And in the past two years, more business domains such as sales and marketing and finance are purchasing their own BI solutions with no input from IT.


The rub, as IT Business Edge's Loraine Lawson, wrote in April, is that IT could help business users avoid what they list as their top gripes about BI: issues with third-party integration, shoddy online documentation and forums, and problems with migrating to new versions of BI software.


So how to convince BI users and IT they can't live without each other? As with other co-dependent relationships, I'm afraid simple chemistry is part of the answer. But I think there are some simple steps that should help.

  • Both sides should agree to keep their BI-related activities as transparent as possible.
  • Both sides should commit to educate themselves about various BI options and share what they learn with each other.
  • Both sides should pledge to work together on establishing BI requirements, and listen closely to feedback during the process.
  • Both sides should agree a single vendor probably won't be enough to satisfy all of an organization's BI needs, with IT creating an infrastructure flexible enough to support a variety of different BI tools.


Establishing a BI competency center is a good idea, too, especially if it's designed with this definition provided by Technolab Corp.'s Desmond Mullarkey in mind:


At the end of the day, it should end up being a service center for business users. ... It should be designed as a place users can go and find out about a BI application. It should walk a user through the process, with clear expectations along the way, of what happens from the time a need is expressed and what happens thereafter until an application is produced.


For more of Mullarkey's thoughts on creating a competency center, along with those of Technolab colleagues Paulo Dominguez and John Brkopac, read my interview with them "Getting a Business Intelligence Competency Center Off the Ground."