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Leading Change in Business Intelligence

Originally published May 12, 2009

If there was a standard list of core competencies for leaders of business intelligence (BI) initiatives, the ability to manage complex change should be near the top of the list. Of course, you need to understand the business, data, the technologies, architecture, program management and project management; but if you can’t get people on board with the change and using the information, why bother?

Change creates “stuff” in us: fear, excitement, resistance, anxiety, risk, motivation, instability, control issues. Depending on the individual, the status quo is frequently more comfortable than the unknown. Since business intelligence is all about trying to know the unknown, change leadership skills are essential.

Organizational issues are usually the drivers behind change. Competition, economic changes, operational performance, regulatory changes, growth, downsizing, new products, new services, financial performance, risk, market factors, workforce issues and government regulations can all impact the organization and force it to make changes to survive. The pressure to change is typically organizational. Business intelligence is central to supporting these types of organizational changes.

Personal issues are usually the drivers behind resistance. Concerns about job security, visibility, competition, personal risk, inadequate skills and fear of failure can create a reaction to change. The resistance to change is almost always caused by personal/individual concerns. Business intelligence leaders must be central to understanding and mitigating the individual resistance related to these organizational changes.

For business intelligence initiatives, there are many models for leading change, and the ADKAR model is one good tool for framing the change process. The ADKAR model was first published by Prosci in 1998 after research with more than 300 companies undergoing major change projects. In 2006, Prosci published the first complete text on the model in a book by Jeffrey Hiatt called ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community. The model can help you to identify why changes are not working and help you take the necessary steps to make the business intelligence change successful. It can help you to break the change into parts, understand where the change might be failing and address specific impact points.

Research shows that people problems are the most commonly cited reason for project failures. Experience indicates that people problems are also a dilemma for the changes associated with business intelligence initiatives.

Effective management of the people dimension of change requires managing five key goals that form the basis of the ADKAR model:

Awareness of the need to change

Desire to participate and support the change

Knowledge of how to change

Ability to implement the change on a step-by-step basis

Reinforcement to keep the change in place

In BI initiatives, these goals related to the people dimension certainly apply. And if you want a successful outcome, you must address all of the components. Based on my experience with BI leaders, here’s how this model can be applied for BI initiatives.


Paint the picture of why the change is required. What will be different? What will be the same? Since most of the forces behind the change tend to be organizational, be sure that your team understands the organizational drivers. Since most of the force behind resistance tends to be personal, understand how the change will be perceived and its potential impact on individuals. If you want to successfully create awareness, make the case by creating a shared vision that people want to be a part of (a future state they want to move toward) and/or by helping people understand the necessity for change (what is the problem they want to move away from).


Imagine that you’ve just graduated from high school and arrive at college. You’ve been a good student, taken the classes required to prepare you for this day and researched the college you’ve selected. You’re suddenly informed that to be successful in your chosen field, you must immediately be able to perform brain surgery. How would you react? Would you be anxious, annoyed or angry? Would you change schools? Would you take an overnight online class on brain surgery? Seems a little ridiculous, but that’s how many people experience the changes that business intelligence may require. Even if I’m open to changing the way I have typically done my job, if I don’t have the necessary knowledge to be successful, it creates a gap in my confidence and my opportunity to succeed. In business intelligence, depending on the jobs impacted, new skills are required for both IT and business in modeling, requirements definition, analysis, decision making and management. Understanding how people learn and providing training for them protects the overall investment in the change. And, prepare yourself, you may have to train and retrain in order for people to make the changes required over time; it’s not a one-time event.


People need support to make the transition required by the change. This could include equipment, tools or documentation. Most importantly, people require time. Back to the brain surgery – can you really learn that overnight or do you need some time to pick it up? Invite people to identify the reinforcement or support they need to transition and sustain the changes. This will serve two purposes. First, you’ll engage them in the change. Second, they may identify obstacles that you hadn’t thought of that could impede progress.


Desire or motivation refers to the way an organization’s system of rewards and punishments either encourages or discourages behaviors. In the case of BI initiatives, are people encouraged or discouraged to change the way they make decisions and use information? In the case of BI teams, are people encouraged or discouraged to change their systems development approach, their use of technology and their understanding of the business? Motivation is important at both an individual level and to overall organizational success. Rewards and recognition can help compensate for the inherent uncertainty associated with any type of complex change, including business intelligence.

Rewards or incentives might be organizational or individual. Organizational rewards generally reflect the cultural values of the organization: completing a difficult task (teamwork and persistence), new product implementation (innovation and creativity), reducing the incidence of disease (patient care). Individual rewards motivate based on personal interests and desired behavior. Individual incentives might include skills development, training, peer recognition, management recognition, financial rewards, marketability, travel, no travel, security or new opportunities. Ideally, there is some connection between the organizational and individual incentives.

When Brad Hams, a consultant and friend, introduced his “Ownership Thinking” model to my company, he led an interesting exercise at the kickoff. He asked each person to put on his or her “employee hat” and asked what business issues they were thinking about. The responses included items like their paycheck, work, vacation, their office, their bonus, relationships with coworkers and customer satisfaction. Then he instructed them to put on their “owner hat” and asked them what they were thinking about. There was a significant pause. “Making payroll?” the first person reluctantly volunteered. Customer retention, risk, insurance, contractual obligations, employee retention, survival, taxes, viability and profitability were the additional responses. Then he asked an interesting question: Wouldn’t it be true that if we thought about our jobs like a business owner, it would enable our employee issues to be addressed? That is, there is no paycheck, no work, no vacation, no office, no bonus and no coworkers unless there is a viable, profitable business. In fact, even in a non-profit organization with the most altruistic mission, there is no viable organization unless there is adequate funding to pursue the mission.

Therefore, in BI initiatives, the question is: Do people see the connection between changing the way they make decisions and the impact on the business and the health of the organization? Do people on the BI team understand the implications of hiring more people, investing in additional tools and the bottom line? Rewards should be structured so that individuals benefit when the organization is successful and the organization benefits when the individual is successful. Otherwise, neither the organization nor the individuals will be aligned toward achieving the results.


Awareness helps us understand the reason for the change, where we are going and why we are going there. Ability defines how we implement the change, step by step. By identifying goals, objectives, tasks, deliverables, roles and responsibilities, we help people see the path to success. If we can be realistic in our planning and time lines, then this will prevent the BI initiative from being an unattainable dream. Unfortunately, in many BI initiatives, “realistic” plans are frequently a big “if.”

The organizational changes required for BI initiatives may create individual resistance in the BI team and in those who use information as part of their job. Using a framework to manage the people dimension of change will improve your potential for adoption of business intelligence.


ADKAR: a Model for Change in Business, Government and our Community : How to Implement Successful Change in our Personal Lives and Professional Careers, Jeffrey M. Hiatt, Prosci Research; 1st edition (August 1, 2006)

  • Maureen ClarryMaureen Clarry

    Maureen is the Founder and President/CEO of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network (CONNECT), an Xtivia company. CONNECT specializes in data, technical, and organizational solutions for business intelligence. Maureen has been on the faculty of TDWI since 1998, served on the Board for the Colorado Chapter of TDWI, and participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for the University of Denver. CONNECT has been recognized as the South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, the Top 25 Women Owned and Top 150 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado. Maureen can be reached at mclarry@connectknowledge.com or 303-730-7171, ext. 102.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Maureen's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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Posted May 18, 2009 by Mark Conway

Maureen – enjoyed your article re: leading change in BI. I am part of Oracle’s EPM /BI business unit and given where I work, when I discuss or present on BI best practices or CSFs, folks assume that it will be very product focused – however we try to flag, upfront,  many of issues that you highlighted. I had not seen the ADKAR model for change before, but it does capture a lot of what we see needed with BI implementation projects.


My experience would concur with your point on personal issues being one of the key barriers to change – and I have seen this with several kinds of enterprise software implementations, not just BI. I always remember a customer at one of the preeminent state universities – he was the vice chancellor for IT and deploying a new HR/Payroll system – when I asked how the project was going he indicated it was at a full stop – he had three employees who had been running payroll for 20+ years and they were all afraid that the new system would put them out of work.  And as they had had no communication or context for why the university was implementing the system at this time, they were basically refusing to implement the new software.  A little bit of focus on the Awareness and Knowledge phases with these employees (Communications 101), got the project back on track.  Using the new system went from being a threat to a development opportunity as soon as they had the context of the project’s “impact on the business and the health of the organization.”


Of course, when a technology vendor states that many project implementations issues are tied to communications and change management – not the technology itself – it can be seen as a wee bit self-serving, so we appreciate the informed perspectives from insightful practioners such as yourself! Cheers,


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Posted May 14, 2009 by Anil Chitkara achitkara@oco-inc.com

Maureen -

Interesting article.  In deploying SaaS BI for our customers, we have seen a need for org change management.  One of the earliest issues we see is around agreement on metrics.  Different groups may calculate metrics differently (e.g., inventory value) while others may have a different view on what data to use (e.g., pre versus post adjusted numbers).  These issues need to be addressed sooner than later.

These issues may be addressed in your Awareness and Knowledge components. 


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Posted May 12, 2009 by Peter Thomas


I have taken the liberty of featuring your thoughts on an new article on my blog (URL as below). I trust that this is OK with you, please get in contact if you have any issues with this.



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Posted May 12, 2009 by Peter Thomas

Excellent piece Maureen,

Change management skills have always been a major factor in the success of the BI projects I have led, but you see few organisations specifiying this area as important when they seek to attract BI leaders. 

I wrote more about this area in a number of places on my blog, maybe most notably in the following piece:



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