The basic skill they don’t teach in BI boot camp

September 9, 2010
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One of the saddest phenomena in BI projects is also a classic: IT and Business stop talking, or else they never talked at all. Projects launch but then stall when the light from shiny things dims. It’s as good an example of bad politics as I’ve heard of.

One of the saddest phenomena in BI projects is also a classic: IT and Business stop talking, or else they never talked at all. Projects launch but then stall when the light from shiny things dims. It’s as good an example of bad politics as I’ve heard of.

Jill Dychè, a principle at Baseline Consulting, hears about such pain in her popular TDWI conference course held on Sundays, “BI from Both Sides: Aligning Business and IT.” It’s full of the “war-wounded” who’ve come to learn how to get moving again.

She finds a common root to many stories: neither side knows how to engage with the other.

“Shockingly, IT says ‘Well, when business knows what it wants, it’ll ask us,’” she says. “It’s unbelievable how often that happens.” From the business side, she often hears, “‘We’ve been asking for X for five years and haven’t gotten it.’” She wants to know, “Who did you ask? How authoritative are you? How did you know what to say? How formal was your request?”

People with stalled BI projects on their hands often try to “get back on the radar” with new and emerging technologies, she says. But that strategy usually doesn’t work.

Such attempts usually come in one of two kinds, she finds. In one, people try to re-label the project — something like business intelligence competency center — perhaps to gain headcount. Too often, though, that fails when the group fails to follow up with real value, instead delivering only disillusionment. In the second type, they have what Jill calls “technology in a vacuum.” They deploy something new without making sure anyone wants it or could use it. A dashboard tool, for example, then goes unused.

If only they’d talk to each other. I noticed her course when I saw she used the word “politics” boldly. It’s not a dirty word, it’s a practical one.

“Understanding who the influencers are helps you boost your agenda,” says Jill. “It’s politics.” You hitch the BI project to organization strategy, for one thing. For another, you find a strong, active sponsor. And you show stakeholders how meaningful analysis based on good data will improve business.

These skills are essential, so why schedule “BI from Both Sides” on a Sunday, a day before prime time? The light from all the shiny things we buy or sell — the BI products — is just reflected light, isn’t it? It all goes dark if the would-be users turn away. Make it part of boot camp!

She answers that it attracts people who really want to be there — and she has a point: Wounds motivate.