Dispelling the Myths and Bringing BI to the Enterprise

August 8, 2011
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There are many challenges to starting and maintaining a successful Business Intelligence program, starting with finding a strong, engaged business sponsor, finding the right skill sets and team members, selecting tools and technologies, defining the requirements and developing a data model that can deliver those KPIs that the business needs to make effective and informed decisions.  All of these things happen AFTER the business has decided that they need BI in their enterprise environment, so the question I’d like to attempt to answer today it how does one person, or a group of pe

There are many challenges to starting and maintaining a successful Business Intelligence program, starting with finding a strong, engaged business sponsor, finding the right skill sets and team members, selecting tools and technologies, defining the requirements and developing a data model that can deliver those KPIs that the business needs to make effective and informed decisions.  All of these things happen AFTER the business has decided that they need BI in their enterprise environment, so the question I’d like to attempt to answer today it how does one person, or a group of people, bring BI to the Enterprise?

Myth #1: General IT workers know how to “do” business intelligence.

Many IT shops try to retrofit a BI team out of people who appear to have some of the skills that you see listed in a Monster.com job opening for a BI professional.  This is a recipe for failure as a general IT worker might be able to deliver a report to a user, but without proper data modeling skills, ETL knowledge, and OLAP cubing skills what will be delivered is what I like to call “Fake BI”. Fake BI can answer one or two business questions, but the minute the business wants to slice the data a different way Fake BI is exposed as incomplete. This is not to say that general IT workers can learn BI, but they need to be mentored by an experienced professional and be willing to learn from the ground up a different way of thinking. Successful BI teams are filled with people who have a “Do You Want Fries With That?” mentality. These folks go the extra mile to deliver added value to the solution, are innovative in using the tools they have at their disposal, and they are constantly asking themselves “How can I make this better and more valuable?” These are the kinds of people you want to place on the BI team.

Myth #2: IT can deliver Business Intelligence without the business’ involvement.

When IT assumes it knows what the business needs, it delivers a solution that isn’t used by the business. This is where the business sponsor becomes the most valuable asset on the BI Team while not really being “on the team”. The business sponsor will be the one defining the business requirements, or working as a liaison between IT and the other business users so that the requirements are captured. If you can make the sponsor happy, they will become an evangelist for business intelligence and your program can continue to grow and deliver business value as other sponsors will come forward with requirements (and hopefully dollars) to drive the project forward.

Myth #3: A BI Project has a definitive end point

General IT workers who live in an Application Development state of mind see all projects as having a beginning and an ending. Business Intelligence is a program, not a project so it is an ongoing process that is constantly evolving and adapting to the business needs as things change internally within the business and externally within the market. Businesses have to commit to a long-term strategy and vision in regards to their data and they need to view it as their most valuable asset. It is important that the business sponsor understand this fact, and if the value is being delivered through business intelligence by the development team this should be an easy thing to see for the executive leadership to see.

Next Steps

If you are the one who is hired as the Business Intelligence “expert” for the enterprise and the business and/or IT is resistant to change, be prepared to be frustrated as you try to champion change within the enterprise. Try to find support from peers and co-workers to help evangelize process change in the name of BI. Some days it may feel like you are trying to teach a pig to sing, but in the end you and I know that the end result can be amazing.

In a new BI program, the experienced party has three very important roles. The first is to build and architect the BI solution. The second is to mentor the less experienced members of the team so that they become more valuable to the BI program. Lastly, you will educating the business users in the use of BI to better their business processes. Once the users are educated, requirements become more clear and the business begins to ask more and better questions.

Next, be sure that you are listening to the business and capturing the requirements they are putting forth, because unfortunately most BI implementation get one shot at “victory”. If it falls short it is shelved for a year or until the next business sponsor comes along and gives it another try. There are many reasons why more than 75% of Business Intelligence projects fail, and unfortunately no definitive reason to keep an eye out for, but if you have a strong, engaged business sponsor and a mix of experienced BI professionals and people who are willing to learn the associated skills than you are ahead of the game.

Lastly, realize that even with the best intentions that some enterprises are not “ready” for BI and you may just have to move on and find new opportunities. If you are wondering what signs to look for to know when you have reached a dead-end with a BI project, check out Wayne Eckerson’s blog post on the B-Eye Network titled “Dead-End BI: When Is Is Time to Quit”.

Business intelligence is quite possibly the most frustrating and the most rewarding undertaking you can be a part of as a computing professional. You can find advice all over the internet and in countless books and white papers, and none of it will apply 100% to your situation. The one thing I will say to you, that does apply to all situations is “Good Luck!”