While the need for an executive steering committee is widely recognized, I've seen great resistance to establishing this committee at numerous companies. Proceeding without executive support entails a great risk, but companies struggle with how to garner the needed involvement. Ideally, several executives will volunteer to serve on a steering committee and to provide visible support on an ongoing basis. In the absence of volunteerism, what options can the business intelligence director pursue to gather executive support?

To understand our options, we must first understand the reasons executives are reluctant to participate. In general, the executives are too busy, unaware or disinclined to support a given program.

Executives are busy - that's the reality. Even if the executives are interested in the program, they often feel that they simply do not have the time to oversee it.

Some executives simply do not know what BI is and why it is important to the enterprise. These executives may be receptive to requests for their time, but before making the commitment, they will need to understand how the BI program will help the company.

This group of executives is ambivalent about BI. The best way to bring these people on board is to provide them with an executive-level briefing about BI, to show them examples of success stories at other companies within their industry, to delineate the problems that exist without an effective BI program (e.g., inconsistencies and quality deficiencies) and delineate specific areas that can be served by effective business analytics.

The greatest challenge will come from key executives who think they understand BI but are openly nonsupportive. Most often, these detractors form their opinions based on personal negative experiences, misinformation or a desire to remain in control.

Executives in opposition to a program cannot be ignored. These are influential people, and they are capable of derailing the program when it does not serve their objectives. The BI director will need to meet with these people individually to understand the reasons for their negative opinions. Based on the reason, he or she must try to bring them on board. This will likely require some personal education as well as involvement from other executives.

Even in cases where detractors are convinced and ambivalent executives become inclined to participate, their time commitment remains as a barrier. Here are a few approaches for overcoming executive reluctance to participation.

Use an existing committee. Some companies are very resistant to forming committees. In such a situation, rather than establishing a new steering committee for BI, see if an existing executive committee exists with the same kinds of people that should provide BI oversight. If such a panel exists, consider appending BI topics to that committee's agenda on a periodic basis. While this approach does not provide a committed oversight group for BI, it can still provide direction, monitor progress, enlist funds/resources, and resolve issues. Over time, as the BI program grows, the members may choose to create a separate committee or devote specific meetings just to BI.

Create a tactical committee. While it does not have the same level of authority, a tactical committee of middle managers can provide guidance on a day-to-day basis. If there is enough support for such a committee, it should be formed, and only issues that require higher sign-off would be raised to the executive committee. Keep in mind that limited executive involvement or response sends a clear negative signal concerning their perception of the program's importance.

Make good use of their time. The BI director should set a process whereby executives can be assured that 1) they are needed, and 2) their time at BI steering committee meetings will be well spent. If executives feel their participation was worthy of their role, they will continue to participate; otherwise, they will send lower-level substitutes or choose not to be represented at all.

This means that the BI director must carefully set the agenda. As each agenda topic is contemplated, the BI director should consider whether or not the committee as a whole must handle a given issue. If the answer is no, handle the item outside of the committee. If the answer is yes, then the BI director must make sure the appropriate supporting material is prepared and the decision points are clearly stated. The agenda, when published, should clearly state the topic to be discussed and the expectations of committee resolution.

Effective executive oversight requires more than periodic meetings. The BI director should regularly communicate with executives to gather their views and to keep them apprised of progress and significant accomplishments. These communications will help maintain their interest so that they will be more willing to participate in well-structured steering committee meetings.

Executive oversight and support is critical to any BI program. The BI director must carefully gauge the level of interest. He should ensure that the executives understand the importance of business intelligence to the organization, and should create a governance structure that reflects the company's culture and leverages the level of involvement executives are willing to provide.

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