October 10, 2008 - Most failed business intelligence (BI) efforts suffer from one or more of nine fatal flaws, generally revolving around people and processes rather than technology, according to Gartner, Inc.


“Despite years of investing in BI, many IT organizations have difficulty connecting BI with the business, and to get business users fully involved and out of the ‘Excel culture’,” said Bill Hostmann, vice president and analyst at Gartner. “Just one common mistake can destroy a BI program, and there is far more risk in nontechnology issues - sponsorship, politics, data quality and so on - than in deploying the infrastructure, tools and applications that support BI. Forewarned is forearmed, so organizations must understand the common flaws that undermine BI projects and prepare an approach to avoid or minimize them.”


Gartner said the failure to achieve strategic results usually stems from one or more of nine common mistakes:


  1. Believing that "If you build it, they will come." Often IT organization sponsors, fund and lead BI initiatives from a technical, data-centric perspective. The danger with this approach is that its value is not obvious to the business, and so all the hard work does not result in massive adoption by business users - with the worst case being that more staff are involved in building a data warehouse than use it regularly. Gartner recommends that the project team include significant representation from the business side. In addition, organizations should establish a BI competency centre (BICC) to drive adoption of BI in the business, as well as to gather the business, technology and communication skills required for successful BI initiatives.
  2. Managers “dancing” with the numbers. Many companies are locked into an "Excel culture" in which users extract data from internal systems, load it to spreadsheets and perform their own calculations without sharing them companywide. The result of these multiple, competing frames of reference is confusion and even risk from unmanaged and unsecured data held locally by individuals on their PCs. BI project instigators should seek business sponsors who believe in a transparent, fact-based approach to management and have the strength to cut through political barriers and change culture.
  3. “Data quality problem? What data quality problem?” Data quality issues are almost ubiquitous and the impact on BI is significant - people won’t use BI applications that are founded on irrelevant, incomplete or questionable data. To avoid this, firms should establish a process or set of automated controls to identify data quality issues in incoming data and block low-quality data from entering the data warehouse or BI platform.
  4. “Evaluate other BI platforms? Why bother?” “One-stop shopping,” or buying a BI platform from the standard corporate resource application vendor doesn't necessarily lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) or deliver the best fit for an organization’s needs. BI platforms are not commodities and all do not yet deliver all functions to the same level, so organizations should evaluate competitive offerings, rather than blindly taking the path of least resistance. Integration between the application vendor's enterprise resource planning (ERP)/data warehouse and BI offerings is not a compelling reason for ignoring alternatives, especially as many third-party BI platforms are as well integrated.
  5. “It's perfect as it is. Don't ever change...” Many organizations treat BI as a series of discrete (often departmental) projects, focused on delivering a fixed set of requirements. However, BI is a moving target - during the first year of any BI implementation, users typically request changes to suit their needs better or to improve underlying business processes. These changes can affect 35 percent to 50 percent of the application's functions. Organizations should therefore define a review process that manages obsolescence and replacement within the BI portfolio.
  6. “Let's just outsource the whole darn BI thing.” Managers often try to fix struggling BI efforts by hiring an outsourcer that they expect will do a better job at a lower cost. Focusing too much on costs and development time often results in inflexible, poorly architected systems. Organizations should outsource only what is not a core competency or business and rely on outsourcing only temporarily while they build skills within their own IT organization.
  7. “Just give me a dashboard. Now!” Many companies press their IT organizations to buy or build dashboards quickly and with a small budget. Managers don't want to fund expensive BI tools or information management initiatives that they perceive as lengthy and risky. Many of the dashboards delivered are of very little value because they are silo-specific and not founded on a connection to corporate objectives. Gartner recommends that IT organizations make reports as pictorial as possible - for example, by including charting and visualization - to forestall demands for dashboards, while including dashboarding and more-complex visualization tools in the BI adoption strategy.
  8. “X + Y = Z, doesn't it?” A BI initiative aims to create a single version of the truth, but many organizations haven't even agreed on the definition of fundamentals, such as revenue. Achieving one version of the truth requires cross-departmental agreement on how business entities (customers, products, key performance indicators [KPIs], metrics and so on) are defined. Many organizations end up creating siloed BI implementations that perpetuate the disparate definitions of their current systems. IT organizations should start with their current master data definitions and performance metrics to ensure that BI initiatives have some consistency with existing vocabulary. They should publicize these standards.
  9. “BI strategy? No thanks, we'll just follow our noses.” The final and biggest flaw is the lack of a documented BI strategy, or the use of a poorly developed or implemented one. Gartner recommends creating a team tasked with writing or revising a BI strategy document, with members drawn from the IT organization and the business, under the auspices of a BICC or similar entity.

Additional analysis is available on Gartner’s Web site.

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