Over the years, BI has gotten a bit of a bad reputation for being the kind of terrible IT project that fails in all the ways that make IT look bad in general: bloated implementations, over budget, delivered late, and with a whole lot of That’s not what I asked for. While the inherently iterative and exploratory nature of many BI initiatives has caused a lot of these problems and fed this reputation, IT has not been the only source of the problem.

Itís also been the users.

For sure, IT can get distracted by the sexy parts of BI and do some wasteful things that donít put the needed and desired tools in the hands of those for whom all of our IT initiatives are ultimately accountable: the users. But as we dig in and begin to focus on how BI really gets done in the enterprise, we uncover the dark side of those failures. The sad truth is that in many cases, weíve also had uncooperative customers, shifting goals and creeping scope, and user communities who say they want one thing and then deny it when itís placed in their hands.

And while we in BI are responsible for the failures that came from our distraciton and short-sightedness, we paradoxically also bear responsibility for how our colleagues outside IT, our customers, treat our service delivery model. If we are to get back to an effective BI partnership, we need to refocus our effort on user-driven BI.

Of course, this sounds like motherhood and apple pie: no one can argue that user-focused BI is a key goal to our success. But when we get down to the detail, thatís when we have to draw some new distinctions. What we must improve at (and are seldom willing to do) is insisting on effective partnership with our customers. With BI initiatives these are essential for the organization to realize any real and sustainable value.

One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the ìsilver bulletî myth about BI: the assumption that BI is a kind of IT magic that takes whatever the customer has in terms of data and transforms it into actionable, effective business insights. Of course nothing is further from the truth. It takes a sophisticated knowledge of the data along with a mature expectation for how decisions are made and how that decision making can and should change with the delivery of new data or old data in new ways. That participation comes from the customer, not IT.

Another similar problem is the refusal of the customer to cooperate with BI out of fear that new decision making capabilities will put analysts out of work. And while that seems like a well-founded concern, Iíve never seen it happen. The myth is that people building reports now will be out of work when the reporting tools are brought online. But the reality is that theyíll still be building the reports, just with a different tool, and most likely with greater flexibility and greater expectation to dive in and find new insights.

Weíll talk in the next article about some more barriers to real user-focused BI and how we go about overcoming them.

Mr. Briggs has been active in the fields of Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence for the entirety of his 17-year career. He was responsible for the early adoption and promulgation of BI at one of the world’s largest consumer product companies and developed their initial BI competency centre. He has consulted with numerous other companies about effective BI practices. He holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College (Mass).
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