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Five Mistakes of Business Intelligence

By: Jeff Block, Capstone Consulting
Posted: April 10, 2009

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Myths: Good planning, smart people and hard work can overcome anything.

There are political realities associated with building out a BI initiative. Populating a data warehouse and building cross-functional reporting applications and dashboards isn’t nearly as much about the technology as it is about all the people involved. Not only will you have to work with staff across the organization, but you’ll be working on processes which are the heart of the business. The same inherent value of a business process that makes it a high-value target for BI (warehousing the data thrown off by it, then reporting on it cross-functionally) is exactly what will make it politically challenging to interact with that process. This isn’t a bad thing, just a reality that has to be wrangled with as you consider BI in your organization.

Here’s the bottom line. Don’t invest too heavily in your BI initiative until you have:

  • Plentiful executive support that is demonstrated; not just verbal
  • Won over some of the skeptics in your organization
  • Created an air-tight, objective business case / value statement for the initiative
  • Thought through a solid objection handling plan
  • Expert, outside help on speed-dial for areas that aren’t your strengths
  • Identified quick wins you can knock out early in the project

Bad Idea #4: Leave out Critical Support Functions

Myths: Build it and they will come.

Make sure you have the following four critical support functions in place. Without them, the best conceived data architecture or BI presentation layer in the world will not be successful over the long haul. 

  1. You need governance. How will you decide how to decide? Who will provide services? Who will write the rules? Who will enforce them? Carefully consider the people, policies, processes and permissions that need to be in place for your success.
  2. You need marketing. A lot of people think that “if we just have this awesome data warehouse, then everyone will fall over themselves to use it.” Sounds nice, but it’s not true. Build a communication plan. Figure out who will tell what to whom. When? What will it accomplish? Expect most people to be skeptics, including some of those who helped you get your funding. You’re going to have selling to do.
  3. You need user training. Business users won’t use BI tools unless their presentation is mind-numbingly simple. If you need paragraphs of explanation on the screen, then rethink your design. Spend time in the classroom, not generating help files. You’re way better off putting users in a room and training them than being overly verbose in written explanations of functionality.
  4. You need IT support. Your BI architecture (especially the data warehouse) won’t take care of itself. Data warehouses need more care and feeding than other applications, not less. Consider external managed support, which allows the experts to be the experts.It’s unlikely ongoing support of your data warehouse qualifies as a high-value innovation for your internal IT team.

Bad Idea #5: Ignore the Confusion of Data Ownership

Myth: IT owns the data.