Top 9 signs your BI project isn’t user-friendly

For years now the catch-cry of the Business Intelligence (BI) industry has been – “Pervasive BI” – the concept of delivering BI to everyone within an organization.  So why has this mantra not been realized and transformed into action, and more importantly, results?

For years now the catch-cry of the Business Intelligence (BI) industry has been – “Pervasive BI” – the concept of delivering BI to everyone within an organization.  So why has this mantra not been realized and transformed into action, and more importantly, results?

The answer is that traditional BI developers focus on the features of their product and forget about its usability.  The end-user comes second.  This is a grave and counter-productive mistake.  If “users” can’t use a BI tool, what good is it?  Software that is difficult to use will not have a high rate of user adoption.  Without a high level of adoption, your BI project is doomed to failure.


Be vigilant, and watch out for these warning signs that indicate your current BI solution has serious usability flaws and inhibits end-user adoption.

1.  Frequent user support requests

When your new BI system is introduced, everyone will ask for help.  Fine.  But, should issues surrounding usability persist past the initial implementation stage, and mass confusion remain, it’s time to reassess the usability of your BI tool or the training offered.

2.  No requests for assistance


Conversely, if your user community is inaudible shortly after implementation, something is wrong.  You haven’t magically implemented a BI program with no glitches and an interface SO intuitive that everyone can tap into its full functionality without a single question or utterance.  Chances are:

  • It’s implementation was not announced loudly enough – people don’t know about the new BI system and aren’t using it
  • Users aren’t using it because the transition is daunting and the tool too hard to use independently
  • User aren’t utilizing its full range of features
  • Nobody knows how to ask for help 

3.  Continued reliance on excel spreadsheets for reporting

Whilst it’s wise practice to select a BI tool that recognizes spreadsheets as a legitimate data sources to help wean users off them, if they continue to be used as a favored data collation and analysis method, something’s wrong.  A well-implemented BI solution will migrate users from a spreadsheet mind-set to a reporting one.

4.  Office chatter about usability


You’ve chosen the BI tool with all the best and most appropriate features – the most insightful BI tool on the market – and you’re expecting a high return on investment (ROI).  However, office chatter reveals that the tool is difficult to use and its presence is viewed as an additional burden.  This represents a barrier to user pervasiveness, and hence your ROI.  With all the excitement about functionality, its usability was overlooked. 

5.  Continued resistance: I liked things the way they were

Users start pining for the old system – a sure hindrance to widespread user adoption and the success of your BI project.  This could mean that the new BI tool isn’t suitable, or the implementation process wasn’t mindful regarding the needs of end-users.

6.  User drop-off


The number of users should gradually rise as people adjust to, and adopt, your new reporting and analytics solution.  But, if usage numbers begin to decrease soon after implementation, it’s a definite indication that you have a problem with your BI environment.  The issue could be that:

  • Users are finding it difficult to adapt to the BI tool – perhaps some extra training sessions are required to pinpoint specific problems.
  • Your BI tool is not delivering the insights that it promised – you need to reassess your BI environment with your user community at the forefront of your readjustment.

7.  Your BI tools aren’t used to support executive strategic decision-making

A successful BI environment relies on a solid implementation process, creating a supportive user environment and managerial / user mindset towards analytics and reporting.  The technology itself is inextricably interlinked to these other factors.  If a BI tool can successfully deliver insights in key areas such as sales, marketing and finance, the executive team will want to implement it across other areas of the business.  If it doesn’t deliver, executives will develop a negative mindset surrounding your BI tool, and will be unwilling to use it in cross-departmental strategy formation, reducing its effectiveness, and potential to achieve ROI.

8.  Poor strategic decision are made


If bad strategic decisions are not an irregular feature of your business landscape following BI implementation, this means:

  • The BI tool is incapable of delivering the appropriate data analysis
  • You’re not collecting the correct data for your BI tool to analyze
  • Decision-makers aren’t using your BI tool and are relying on ‘gut feel’ because:
    • They find the tool difficult to use
    • They have discarded it because it is incapable of delivering the results they (rightly or wrongly) thought it would

9.  Struggling to receive executive backing and funding for upgrades

If you can’t secure funding in next year’s budget for BI upgrades, the project obviously isn’t viewed as a priority by management.  In which case you need to:

  • Make sure you are clearly articulating the business benefits of expansive operational BI
  • Reassess your current BI set-up to ensure that it is delivering everything it promised prior to implementation

Conclusion: where to next?


If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to rethink your existing BI program.  Business needs and business users should always be the primary consideration when developing or selecting a BI tool.  Yes, BI is implemented and administered by technical experts.  But, as the name suggests, it is for business users.

If end-users are included in the selection and implementation process they will be more likely to embrace your BI solution and ultimately help foster a successful BI roll out.  This doesn’t mean you should neglect the needs and preferences of your technical users.  Just be mindful of the fact that they represent a small portion of your overall BI users.  Ensure that the analysis undertaken by your tech-team can be easily shared with non-technical users in a fast, easy to understand, timely manner.  End-user adoption is the key to a successful BI program