Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Mar 12 2012   5:38AM GMT

Implementing BI is not so easy

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

A lot has been said about Business Intelligence (BI) and many organizations have implemented it in the past and claimed success. Vendors who supplied solutions to them tom-tom the effectiveness of their products and methods. There is no doubt that many have adopted BI successfully and have gained many advantages but many others have struggled with it.

A magic formula?

BI struck the chords of many executives and they believed it was something that would give them what traditional IT had not provided them so far. “BI is the next biggest thing to happen in IT’ – so said the vendors as they tried to push their way into many an organization. While in some cases CIOs took initiative to introduce BI, in other cases it were the business heads took up the cudgels. Great stories were talked about the possibilities of achievement and it seemed immense.

Tread with caution

However, a few years down the road, the accomplishments were not as wonderful as they were made out to be. The question, why BI did not get the expected success, could have many reasons which can include creating unrealistic expectations, improper application of the tool, user resistance, inability of the organization to absorb change, etc.

If we accept the fact that BI gives us information that conventional applications fail to do, then we need to deal with this subject with a little more care. It is bound to raise hackles when we express our intention to generate revealing information on various areas of business. We unwittingly stir up the hornets’ nest and then expect the hapless individuals to sit up and cooperate. So the people are the most important part of the solution, which we sometimes, tend to ignore.

Types of users that resist BI

Users are of various types and have their own reasons to resist this new tool. Let me classify these users into a few types and look at their characteristics.

1. Users who don’t know what to do with information: When doing consulting work for a client, the client CEO told me that the trouble with some of his managers was that if we gave them information they would not know what to do with it. He said that they are so used to making decisions on gut feel that using information for decision-making is alien to them. So such people look nervous and lost when you speak to them about BI.

2. Users who dislike info: There have been occasions when these smart blokes, street-smart executives would stare at me and frown upon when approached for discussing information needs. They say they know well about their business and do not like the idea of us trying to invade their glamorous lifestyle. The very idea of information altering their ways of working disturbs them to no end.

3. Users who are happy and self-sufficient: These are those emancipated users who have attained nirvana. They are perfectly happy with whatever information they have and are not desirous of any more. You may make juicy presentations offering them the moon but they never are impressed enough. They want to be left alone.

4. Users who get scared: They are set of executives who are ever vigilant to ensure that nobody ever invades their territory. They fiercely guard their turf and do not let anyone seek data or analyze their performance. When approached they give a look of askance and wonder if you have nothing else better to do. If you ever persist with your efforts they are sure to hound you out. They don’t want anyone to probe their efficiency levels or unearth strong kept secrets which could just be suicidal.

5. Users who are happy with aggregates: These users are usually of royal origin and their interest lies in the overall aggregates. They are usually the senior management including some functional heads. They believe in taking a bird’s eye view of the state of affairs of the company and abhor details. As long as the overall picture is good, the underlying dirt doesn’t matter. They don’t like splitting hairs on common matters and for them digging into details is trivia.

When such a large segment of potential BI customers are not so well disposed towards it, isn’t it natural to see BI falter and stutter when being installed in many corporates. More than information system design, configuration and methodologies, it is the people and the change management process which are important. Imposing BI onto unwilling customers has been industry’s wrong doing.

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