dinsdag 15 april 2014

Why Business Intelligence Consultants Fail at Introducing New BI Tools

Many studies, surveys and other empirical evidence shows that between 25 and 45 % of all Business Intelligence (BI) software is deprecated and ends up as shelf ware. This is less the fault of aggressive software vendors than BI consultants who can’t look beyond at least five blinkers. And whether the BI consultant(s) involved was an internal staff member or outsourced doesn’t affect the outcome.
There are many causes of failed BI tool introductions ranging from “no executive sponsorship”, via “an underdeveloped business case”  to “not managing the scope properly “ but all these are not at the root of the problem. The BI project leader and the BI Business Analyst are responsible to manage these risks. 
Let’s have a look at these five blinders that are at the root cause of poorly managed tool introductions:

  • Focus on the technical aspects
  • Not enough problem owners identified
  • Managing expectations poorly
  • Too much power in the hands of the BI consultant
  • Pouring old wine in new bags

Focus on the technical aspects

A large publishing company asked us to compare two market leading BI tools. There were two technology factions in the IT department and we were asked to take the role of the objective referee between the two opposing camps. After days and days of intensive study, testing and two proofs of concept the differences were negligible and we advised the customer to  let the total cost of ownership decide which would be the tool of choice. But the two factions kept their hawkish stance on the tool of their choice.
We then tried to convince them to quit the technical discussions and take the business questions and the end user experience into account. The reaction of both parties was pointing at the real problem: “Managers all ask the same questions so this approach is irrelevant”.  In their vision the business questions were generic but the tool was unique. Never was the distance between IT and the business users wider. The lack of mutual understanding between business and IT is still prevalent in many organizations.  Only age old mail-order companies and pure play ecommerce enterprises have passed or skipped this development stage.

Not enough problem owners identified

If the BI consultants are unable to identify sufficient problem owners, the advice should be to postpone the tool introduction and if that is not possible, at least invest heavily in detecting and even creating problem owners. In too many cases finance and admin  (F&A) departments are the sole problem owners in a finance BI projects. As if HRM, marketing and operations have nothing to do with revenue,, variable and fixed costs…
During one of our BI audits in a third party logistics company we found that F&A had only knowledge of 27% of the total information needs. Yet the other 73 %  were in weaker or stronger form related to F&A information requirements… Needless to point out that this approach produces a weak foundation for a durable BI architecture.
Conclusion: the entire organization needs to own the information management problems and delegate these to the project steering committee.

Managing expectations poorly

During an audit of a customer relationship management (CRM) system at a large PC distributor we noticed it was impossible to create a product profile per customer. There was an order history per customer but these records only contained article number, price and quantity. If this multi million euro organisation had foreseen an extra field for category management, then this information had produced some meaning. Because who can tell if a 1Gb hard disk in 1998 was sold as consumer or a professional product?
The lesson to be learned is: before you accept any of the information requirements, you need to validate these against the available source data or else you may create expectations you can never meet.

Too much power in the hands of the BI consultant

We can all live with the fact that there are no objective consultants who can deliver totally value free advice based on scientific evidence. But one type of advice should always raise your suspicion: that of “consulting intensive”  BI tools. Any specialist knows that there are many degrees between “download, install and DIY” on one side and “Welcome to the consultants who will never leave” on the other. So make sure you choose a tool that can stay on board for at least five years. BI technology may produce a real or hyped breakthrough on every Gartner Summit but organisations need to be able to follow, adopt and adapt to the new technology to make maximum use of it.
I sometimes wonder if there is not a correlation between the size of the consulting organization and the size of the BI solution they bring to the table.
My advice: go visit a comparable organisation and see what their experience is with the BI tool and the consulting organization. It will set the PowerPoints of your BI consultants in perspective.

Pouring old wine in new bags

To paraphrase Bill Clinton: “It’s the user, stupid!”  Contrary to ERP systems where negative feedback is the norm and where users are forced to work with it, BI is a world of user motivation and positive feedback. If you avoid using the ERP system then essential documents and information like purchase orders, inventory status or invoices won’t be produced correctly and somebody higher up in the chain of command will have an urgent conversation with you. But if you avoid using the BI system because it is too difficult or it doesn’t provide answers to your questions then probably no one in the organisation will know, even if they use the monitoring tools. These tools will only tell them if you opened the cube or the report but they have nothing to say about the influence of the presented facts on your decision making process.
The possibilities to explore and exploit data are only limited by the availability of the data and your analytical capabilities. “Availability” should be translated into “usable, verifiable, quality-checked, well defined and traceable data which can support fact based decision making”, otherwise it is just… lots of data. Meaningless data can be very demotivating for end users. Think about it when you are setting up report bursting for example. The simple interaction “user effort – new insights” is what motivates users to come up with better decisions, smarter information requirements for new iterations. This simple interaction lifts the entire organization to a higher maturity level in BI.
It is also a plea for agile BI (read my agile BI manifesto here) because too many projects fail to deliver functionality within the time perspective of the user. If the user is not on board of the new system rapidly, he will be reluctant to trade in his spreadsheet and his calculator for something new that is not meeting his expectations.

Conclusion: introducing a new BI tool needs careful organisation wide change management. Anyone who thinks he can do with less will end up with nothing.
In the next post I will suggest a few remedies to increase the success factor of a new BI tool introduction. Stay tuned!