In her book, Sudden Death, Rita Mae Brown wrote, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Think about this quote for a second and ask yourself, does this quote apply to the way you deliver BI solutions? Have you been doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results? If so, then you might want to keep on reading.
I've been in the consulting business for most of my career and have seen too many organizations blame technology for project failures. In the past couple of years, especially, I've seen scads of companies spending ungodly amounts of money to do nothing more than replace one BI tool with another. I liken the decision to blame BI tools for lack of user adoption and downright project failure to Brown's quote. I really have to laugh every time I hear an organization blame a project failure on the BI tool. When the BI team (too often synonymous with the IT group) finds itself squarely in the middle of major business dissatisfaction and low adoption rates, there seems to be a tendency to place the blame squarely where it doesn't belong, namely the BI tools.
But is it really the tool? How can these very same tools be in wide use across the globe and be an integral part of some very successful BI deployments? If it were truly the tools' fault, the vendors selling them would have gone out of business a long time ago and one would expect that hundreds to thousands of successful deployments with a "bad tool" wouldn't be possible.
Psst! Stop and take a moment to listen to what's really being said:
Company 1 - "We're going to replace Tool A with Tool B because Tool A can't deliver what we need."
Company 2 - "We're going to replace Tool B with Tool A because our users aren't using Tool B."
Company 3 - "We're going to replace A and Tool B with Tool C because neither A nor B are cutting it."
In my opinion, most BI tools available today provide much the same functionality - query, reporting, analysis, dashboard and scorecards. Some are certainly better than others at any point in time, as like most products, they continue to leapfrog each other in features and functions. And for the record, I'm talking about the real BI tools, not basic reporting tools pretending to be BI capable. So if the tools provide similar functionality and have been successfully deployed many times over, what's really going on?
I liken these "Tool Wars" to another manifestation of poorly executed BI programs - speadmarts. To me, they're symptoms of the same disease - IT's failure to truly engage with the business to deliver impactful, insightful, meaningful and intuitive solutions. Seriously, if the BI team were building solutions using business-driven techniques, the solutions couldn't help but be successful.
So, before blaming tools and looking for a replacement, I'd encourage BI groups (IT groups) to first conduct a self assessment. Reach out to the business community for whom the solution was supposedly built and seek to understand what the real objections are. I'd be willing to bet donuts to dollars that the solution is suffering from one or more of the following woes:
- A warehouse was built by IT and "thrown over the fence" to the business community with the expectation that they'll find value in the raw data tables.
- The "BI" implementation is nothing more than a glorified report building environment rather than a metrics- or objectives-based solution that can be leveraged to drive revenue, improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs and maintain strong financial controls. (see "A Business Context for Agile Business Intelligence")
- Time to value is measured in quarters and years rather than in weeks and months because existing delivery processes are mired in traditional waterfall methods.
- Adequate end-user training has not been provided.
In a nutshell, "good" and "bad" have very little to do with the BI tools and lots to do with providing true business value in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost. When BI solutions are anchored in and aligned with business objectives, the front-end tool really shouldn't matter. If you don't agree, try replacing your BI tool while holding everything else constant. When you deliver the "new and improved" version, don't be surprised when the business looks at you like you're insane!
Posted January 7, 2011 7:24 AM
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