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Building Business Intelligence

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

Users are the lifeblood of business intelligence (BI). Yet, how often do builders of business intelligence truly consider the user's point of view? While many users clamor for business intelligence, almost giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting access to more information in a user-friendly format and with more currency than ever before, a majority of users approach business intelligence initiatives with more apprehension than excitement and more trepidation and foreboding than eager anticipation. These user perspectives are especially more typical once you try to roll out BI to the masses within the organization, beyond the sponsors, the power users and the first few waves of users for specific backlogged demand.

Those users with very little interface with the business intelligence team who become users when the ability of the team to do one-on-one desk-side training has long since vanished become the challenge that must be overcome. While it could be argued that quality users trump quantity users any day, maximum ROI is found with widespread effective rollout of business intelligence to all knowledge-workers within an organization.

Preparation of the BI system for these users can be intense; however, it is necessary that we put rigor into our user care programs, including stewardship, training, intranet pages, chalk talks and 24x7 support. An empathetic focus on these users can help us create the most sound rollout and support programs. These users are just as hard to win over as the first wave, maybe harder. Consider their perspective.


The prospect sits in a warm, comfortable office. Reports arrive somewhere between three and five days after the business activity and show the top metrics of his department - metrics such as sales by region by product - all in hard copy.

An hour each day is spent with the reports, mostly cross-referencing them to his manually collected data. It's a comfortable, familiar hour and occasionally in the cross-reference process something is learned about the business. Frequently, something stands out - such as sales in a region or a promotional pick-up. However, he has to weigh whether it's actionable information or not, given that some time has passed and he has suspicions about the quality of the data anyway.

Nonetheless, a requirement this user will have is that the data coming out of BI system look exactly like his current reports. He'll be checking, and he'll be quick to point out all the differences and question the data quality if possible. His current reports may not be perfect or interactive and they may be late and/or missing historical data, but it's a matter of the devil he knows versus the devil he doesn't know.


I've often suspected would-be users of thinking, "Isn't business intelligence an oxymoron anyway?" Other thoughts that are likely to be free flowing among the middle waves of BI user prospects include, "Do they know what they're doing? Do they have anyone on that team that's done this before?"

You also can expect their disbelief in continuing support from top management, especially if top management has not continually stayed the course in the past when there's been a problem or a hint of a problem on similar projects.

Additionally, because they were not in the first wave of the BI rollout and likely not consulted about it, how could this system possibly meet their needs?

Lack of Understanding

One of the largest points of BI misunderstanding has to do with the ongoing, iterative nature of the rollout. I actually do not know of any BI programs that are "complete." All continue to iterate - even those that have been doing so for 10 years. Many in the user community question such a plan - and the ongoing investment required. They are accustomed to big-bang rollouts and sometimes do not believe they will get interested until all the data is out there. That could take a lot longer than the time frame in which you had hoped to get them aboard!

Training, Support and Workload Issues

How do you plan to support the BI system? These users probably think you'll build it, thinking it will be perfect and run by itself. Plus, they've heard those projects fail all the time. You're going to load it every day? How are you going to do that when your staff works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.?

Additionally, will there by any training for the warehouse? They don't have a lot of time for training, but how are they supposed to use BI without training? Will it be done professionally or be an after thought, pulled together at the last minute without materials or workshops in a last-ditch effort to try to generate some usage?

Furthermore, the so-called "user friendly" interface is really quite foreign to them. What button do they push for their familiar report?

Looking for the Deeper Meaning

The introspective prospective user will question whether the company still values the personal judgment she brings to her job now that analytics are being derived from organizational data. Will everyone be able to see the data she uses to make her decisions? Will it bring unwelcome scrutiny?

Will BI somehow obviate or automate her value to the organization? After all, before the BI system she spent several hours a day researching data across the various systems, fixing dirty data and manually compiling data. What happens to those two hours after the BI implementation? Does she have the skills to succeed when analysis (as opposed to data collection) is valued?

To be successful, the BI organization must turn hundreds of prospects with these perspectives into users while delivering ROI and not compromising on the architecture. Understanding their perspectives can help you to sustain the success of a first rollout as well as the later rollout to the masses of BI users.

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