Many companies make a very basic mistakes when they set out to buy Business Intelligence solutions. They proceed under the assumption that they are out to buy software. The truth is that they are purchasing an aid to strategic decision making. It is important to realize that Business Intelligence tools are all about Business Intelligence, the fact that they happen to be software as well is secondary to the issue.
Business Intelligence solutions interact with several different segments of your business and therefore, when properly executed, allow for a unified view of the business. This of course is the essence of a good BI solution. Any good BI solution will have capabilities that span the following:
With these requirements, looking at BI as a software solution alone would naturally be a big mistake. BI starts with a philosophy rather than a computational need. It is clear therefore that there are a number of places where a BI initiative can go wrong. Let us look at the biggest mistakes that a company can make while going in for a BI solution.
The Biggest Mistake: Lack of senior executive sponsorship and support. Enough has been said about this in every possible forum. The selection of the overall project leader and his / her clout in the company is an indicator of the seriousness with which the company takes the project. This is the single most critical factor in the success of the BI Program.
Mistake #2: The next mistake is a failure to differentiate between BI needs and Information system needs. Procuring a BI solution is a managerial decision and not an IT solution. Failing to make this distinction early in the procurement process will cause major problems later on. The number of unknown reports and requirements of a Business Intelligence solution is far greater than in an Information Management system. It is the unknown requirements that add real value to BI as they go on to support innovation and discovery and lead to opportunities. Failure to understand this can be a major mistake.
Mistake #3: There is a failure to appreciate the difference between the complete program and its component projects. It takes a number of projects to complete a BI program. When you decide to go in for a BI solution, you must define your requirements both at a program level – where you address the entire enterprise’s requirements – and at the project level – addressing the architecture, technology, SLAs and processes. All too often, it is far easier to define project requirements and miss the program needs.
Mistake #4: The third major mistake is in ignoring the human factors. Getting the involvement of the right executives and the right level of hierarchy in the company is essential to the success of a BI program. Since BI exists in that zone between business environment and technology, you need people on board who are comfortable with both. They must have detailed business knowledge to be able to understand the company’s needs. You will also need subject matter experts who understand each sector in detail. Every person you bring on board the BI initiative already has full time work in the company. Therefore, you need people who are willing to walk the extra mile during that period when the BI is just absorbing a lot of work but is yet to produce value.
Mistake #5: This lies in not ensuring that the solution is intuitive and easy to use. Many different kinds of users from all over the company will use the BI solution. These users will range from the geek to those for whom it is Greek. You will need to ensure that the power users have plenty of tools and capabilities but they do not intimidate the non technical user. Anticipating the needs of various users and ensuring that each can be satisfied is a key to user acceptance. Typically, the solution needs to cater to the following users -
Mistake #6: Is in not planning for performance. Users will expect query times to be small and if the program is a success it will get a lot of enthusiastic users who will suddenly find a new way of going about their business. If you have not planned for performance, sudden user load can overwhelm the solution and frustrate the user. As a top executive in a BI software company says: “Some organizations are cursed with success”.
Mistake #7: Ignoring data external to the company is a common mistake. This is often a result of not appreciating the ‘strategic’ nature of the solution. The company does not exist in a vacuum and therefore a good BI solution will take, to the extent possible, external factors into account as well.
Mistake #8: Size does not really matter. Left to themselves, the IT staff will attempt to push as much data as possible into the warehouse and increase the scope of the project. After all they are attempting to anticipate in advance every possible question that could be asked of them. It is a business decision as to how much of historical data is relevant and should be kept. Avoid getting into a ‘my data warehouse is bigger’ syndrome.
Does it all look too hard?
If all of this is making you feel a bit tentative, take heart. Like in most complex things in life, common sense does work here as well. Remembering that the BI Solution has the potential to change the strategic trajectory of the company will help you make the right choices. When in doubt, think from a business perspective and not from an IT perspective. It is IT’s job to support the business and not the other way around. Just as wars are too important to leave to generals, BI solutions are too important to leave to IT specialists. Get the senior management involved from day one.