Why Sometimes Business Intelligence Projects Don’t Take Off

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Click to learn more about author Michele Iurillo.

Oh. What a big question, I’m sure you’ve seen everything in your experience, but there are repeating patterns, taking some results of a recent Gartner survey, I’ll try to analyze the different problems.

Projects that never end, erroneous reports, non-standardized data, difficulty in generating reports that say something, difficulty accessing key data, consulting companies that do not have the deep business knowledge and are dedicated to making cubes and Data Marts without much sense, I could continue… but I’ll stop here.

Companies are People, Processes, Purpose and Resources. Many times they fail in some of these aspects…or even in more than one. Purpose, for example, is to have the right culture to implement a Business Intelligence solution and above all it is necessary to have information, not data.

Purpose: Do we have the right culture within the organization?

Your organization may not be prepared at the cultural level to have this information. Systems Managers are increasingly becoming information managers and in this new role they need to create opportunities and add value to the information. In a company where the system is blocked, shielded, protected or even hidden there is little chance to progress.

The Systems Manager has to take care of the system and make available to management or CIOs, CDOs all the necessary tools for each department to create the relevant information. Information is power and some old computer professionals think it’s better to be indispensable by becoming like the only oracles that can give a sales report.

People: Do we have the right profiles?

Are our employees trained and eager to improve the company’s results? If we don’t have certain profiles we can do three things:

To train them, and this is always an investment since the person can one day leave the company (so it is necessary to know how to retain them, but this is other argument).

Other option is to look for missing profiles in the labor market. Today there are so many Masters of Business Intelligence and Big Data, and the good thing is to bet on people with a minimum of real experience. System Integrator consultants are often chosen because they usually work under pressure and have a long track record (and are the Kings of the Art of Improvisation.)

The third way and often the one that most companies choose is to buy the work of others, access external consultants. These three options are good and the only variable is the capacity of people. Don’t forget that. Citing one of Gartner’s latest surveys:

“Don’t assume that the acquisition of new technologies is essential to achieving levels of transformational maturity in data and analysis… First, focus on improving how people and processes coordinate within the organization, and then look at how you improve your practices with external partners.”

There are some who prefer to hire big consulting firms to have a parachute for failures, others who only want products present in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant losing many opportunities and a lot of money.

Processes: Where are the data?

There are two worlds in Business Intelligence: Front End (Qlik, TARGIT, Power BI, Tableau etc.) and Back End. Any platform we have chosen to exploit the data must be robust and meet basic requirements. The truth is that exploiting data is reasonably simple if we know what we want. The problem arises when we do not know how to design adequate indicators or when some external consultant comes to us with the panacea of  “this is what is measured in your sector”, unfortunately the culture of copying and pasting continues to wreak havoc. I assure you that no more than 20% of the indicators that can be applied to one company can be transferred to other companies. What is profitability? What is gross operating margin? What is a TAM and how is it calculated? If we know how to answer these questions, we can draw a minimum set of indicators.

According to the Gartner survey,

“Improving process efficiency is the most common business problem organizations have tried to address with data and analysis, with 54% of respondents around the world pointing to it as one of the three main issues.”


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Resources: Do we have the right technology?

When we talk about Back End, the pains begin. These data are present who knows where they need to be standardized and cleaned, so that they can provide us with something. In the old days the crucial moment was to reach the ETL (Extraction, Transformation and Loading) process slowly and sometimes a barrier by many. Today, Self-Service BI poses new challenges. It is not possible to design an OLAP cube for every analysis (I have seen it… I swear it), it is not possible to generate temporary Data Marts and then realize that you are working with obsolete data from years (I have also seen it).

In the era of CIOs and Data Scientists the data has to be information and it has to be made available at the moment of an event…. it is enough to hear phrases like “these are yesterday’s sales”, modern companies want to know that it is being sold now. In this aspect, the technology has improved a lot thanks to Data Virtualization, the In-Memory Database processes and new stars of the firmament such as the Logical Data Warehouse.

I am a poor front-end strategy consultant and can now model data without having to spend days in Integration Services and Analysis Services. I plug in the data source and get to work in minutes. This allows for serious Self-Service BI.

The System Director sleeps quiet dreams because I will never touch the structure of his databases, I will never generate workload in the DB because I only need to access the data when I make the query.

The CIO sleeps quiet dreams because we have designed a Data Governance system where everything flows without having to worry too much about sensitive data. It defines roles and with this each department has what it needs and cannot access counterproductive information.

The Data Scientist sleeps peaceful dreams because he knows he can access all the company’s information and can combine it with Big Data in search of patterns and generating new predictive scenarios. Each profile has its own tool, each profile has its own data, it is not a dream, it is the reality of companies that know how to take advantage of their data, transforming them into relevant information for decision making. In the new Business Intelligence profiles you will see more R and less DAX.

What do the BI managers think?

According to Gartner,

“Organizations reported a wide range of barriers that prevent them from increasing their use of data and analysis. There is no clear reason. However, the survey identified the three most common barriers: defining the data and analysis strategy; determining how to get value from projects; and solving risk and governance problems.”

The BI is a compass in the sea in the storm, but we need to know where to go (purpose) to have a prepared and motivated crew (people) where everyone knows what to do (processes) and above all to have a boat (resources).

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