Right now, as you read this, many business decision makers are waiting. They are waiting on IT to deliver business intelligence so they can make an informed business decision. They may have filled out the IT-required form or maybe just lobbed a call in to the most responsive BI developer in IT. They have asked for a simple report with A LOT of data on it because they know the cycle time on these things is days or weeks so they're trying to think ahead a little bit. Also, it's clearly a report and not an interactive tool because those "IT tools" are difficult to understand without some training, for which they don't have time for or they don't think the tools are meant for them.
As time passes, many of these reports will lose their value to the requestor. They won't break off the request, however, because it's not their time that's invested in building the report and the report MAY still have some value anyway. Whether the decision maker moved on without it or not, she will have to sort through some voluminous data to get to some value, and that's also time consuming and value-reducing.
So it goes in many environments that have not made the leap to empowering the end user. Yet, it seems every shop sees the value in self-service BI and minimizing or eliminating the IT bottleneck, yet few have made it happen. So should we accept this reality and down-license the business intelligence software we're buying and forsake user empowerment? No way.
Self-service BI takes work. It takes focused energy until an organization makes some breakthroughs in process and the culture change necessary. This is important enough that if most users are dependent on IT, this is probably one of the most important strategic activities to work on for the BI program, and the business as a whole. So why the delay?
Change is hard. Even small investments in changing habits are hard to do. Despite comments to the contrary, using IT and treating BI as "just reports" is the devil many know. Here are some tips (directed at IT) for getting past this point. Remember it is IT that bears the brunt of the failure of user empowerment.
1. Promote the data that is available. Sure, BI is built now based on known requirements. However, there are still those unknown value propositions for the data that can be unearthed quickly and provide more value than the requirements for which BI was built for. Users are often reluctant to articulate requirements if the turnaround is multi-months, but if the data is already accessible, well-performing and clean, usage ideas will take form. More usage, and getting will mean more user profiles.
2. Promote the various methods of accessing data. Early in a BI cycle, I will profile the users to the style of access that is most suitable for them and passive report receiving is not the default. Dashboards are a step up from reporting and ad-hoc, interactive environments are beyond that. Furthermore, it may be possible to automatically enact the business change that is desired through operational business intelligence. Put it all on the table with the users.
3. Invest in training the users to interact with the data. Real training - classrooms, materials, breaks, snacks, etc. Half technical-general, half company/data model-specific. The first few trainings will be learning experiences for everyone involved. There may be serious feedback or some serious deskside component to the training until it is learned what works to make the user feel empowered. And, while the training is serious, it can't be LONG, boring or irrelevant.
4. Invest early extra energy in a few key users. Invest in them the notion of the iterative nature of BI and other things they need to know and get them sharing the good word throughout their peers. Self-service BI is iterative like everything else. Start small.
5. Don't, for a second, believe it's an all-or-nothing proposition. This is where many shops go wrong. They think they can flip a switch and users will do it all. There should be a healthy split of responsibilities between IT and the users for data access. There is still a data access role in IT in self-service BI environments.
Posted November 15, 2009 5:54 PM
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