Today’s professionals have a myriad of business intelligence (BI) tools to choose from. These tools promise to make businesses smarter by making data accessible and actionable for functions like sales and marketing. But as research on BI tools shows, there are many challenges standing in the way of wide user adoption in enterprises.

The biggest challenge is the assumption from software makers that their users must be “data geeks” and take the time to learn the cumbersome, difficult BI platforms. While BI tools do offer a means to their systematic optimization goals, they fail miserably in getting business intelligence into the hands of the professionals who need it most, like marketers and salespeople. Many of these solutions sell themselves as an efficient, optimized business-wide operation.

In reality, they remain in the hands of very few data savvy people in the enterprise, and typically require a solutions provider and an IT team to manage the data and build applications. This is because current tools rely on a systems logic rather than human logic.

As evident by BI’s low user adoption numbers, business people like marketers and salespeople will not use a platform if they have to learn a special language to query the data. I wouldn't, would you?

Businesses are now realizing that when they roll out company-wide tools such as BI, they need to build smaller applications that serve the right data, to the right people, in a format they can consume, at the right time, to answer critical business questions.

Designing a BI tool with mass adoption means relying on flexibility and leveraging existing skillsets. Dashboards delivering specific insights bring some relief, but they deliver the same specific insights without any kind of flexibility. Most professionals’ jobs are not so monotonous – they need to review a range of insights and explore them in multiple directions, typically within a moment’s notice.

If my tool normally lets me assess my consumer’s media consumption habits, what if I need to look at something slightly different? With the tools available today, I would have to talk to our analytics team in IT and wait for them to build me a new dashboard. If you’re really lucky, this may only take days, but in many instances it can take weeks or even months. In today’s pace of business, that is simply not quick enough.

Additionally, these tools must meet professionals in their current skillset, rather than requiring them to learn a whole new one. If I am a business person, I don't want to learn about indexing, nor do I want to learn how to use a complex tool - I just want answers.

If disparate data is made available through an interface that is simple and intuitive to use, I can run a natural-language query that, in seconds, pulls up relevant information from all the datasets accessible, and tells me in natural language what the information means. BI tools have certainly harnessed the power of Big Data, but only for those few who know how to use them. As Big Data continues to expand, more and more business functions will rely on its analysis.

Usability is the key to adoption, and the current options available today fail in this respect. To truly provide business intelligence, these tools must be designed to be used by professionals in all departments across an enterprise. And that means providing tools that meet the flexibility and skillset of the average person. (About the author: Josh Knauer is chief executive officer of Rhiza)

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