I am often asked, "What are the indicators of a successful BI solution?" Without a doubt, the rising appreciation of timely, relevant and accurate information for decision-making purposes continues to stimulate the demand for business intelligence (BI). Gartner Inc.'s 2006 survey of 1,400 chief information officers showed that BI was their leading technology initiative.1 To further validate this trend, a survey by BusinessWeek Research Services, commissioned by Knightsbridge, showed that a majority of companies believe their large-scale or strategic BI initiatives are returning the business value they expected.2

User Access

It is commonly believed that the primary indicator of a successful BI solution boils down to the number of individuals who have access to it. This is true for BI software vendors, who price their products based upon the number of user licenses. However, for an organization that has deployed BI, the number of people with access is not a good indicator at all. Just because individuals can access the BI solution does not mean that they are using it.

You might think that looking at the number of active individuals - those who have accessed the BI solution within the last week or month - would be a better indicator of success. I would contend that even the number of active individuals by itself is not a good indicator. Why? Because active users of the BI solution may not be using it appropriately.

At one life sciences organization, the number of active individuals compared to user licenses owned was quite high. The manager of the BI solution believed that it was successful based upon this high ratio of active users to BI licenses. However, when we looked into how individuals were using the BI solution, we were all very surprised by what we discovered. The vast majority of individuals were only using the BI solution to extract data sets from the data warehouse. The extracted data sets were imported into a spreadsheet application where the data was formatted and visually represented in the form of charts and graphs. The charts and graphs were then copied into a presentation application prior to dissemination to a larger audience. Not only was this process manually intensive and time-consuming, it could have been performed routinely within the BI application. These individuals were using a limited amount of the functionality of the BI application and not enough to justify the investment that had been made.

At another organization in the high-tech industry, the ratio of active individuals to the number of BI user licenses was very low. However, those individuals who were accessing the BI solution were performing very detailed analyses and identifying trends. In this case, one of the analysts identified an increasing sales trend for a particular product in a geographic region. Based upon this identification, plans for manufacturing runs were changed and additional inventory was shipped to that geographic region in order to meet the growing demand. Without the BI solution, that analysis would not have been performed on a timely basis, and the identification of the sales trend would have happened when inventory shortages had occurred, thereby resulting in lost current revenue opportunities.

BI Adoption is Empowering

 Figure 1: Questions to Measure BI Success


As users learn to navigate the BI application and develop an understanding of the information that is available, the need to enrich the data content of the BI solution and perform more complex analyses grows. The requests for additional data sets or functionality are reflective of active use and the desire for the BI solution to provide greater capabilities. A successful BI solution evolves to satisfy the information needs of the organization and continues to provide enlightenment.

Success Indicators

Indicators of BI success can be grouped into three categories: access, usage and evolution. The questions to ask to determine whether your BI solution is successful are listed in Figure 1.

Significant amounts of time, money and resources have been and will continue to be invested in developing and deploying BI solutions. When implemented correctly, BI empowers professionals by providing the capability to easily monitor, analyze and report upon the operations and historical activities of their organization. When considering what a successful BI solution looks like, remember that the answer is not determined solely by the number of people using it. Instead, success is determined by whether it is used in an effective and efficient manner for the betterment of the organization. Equally important, organizations must evolve their BI to meet their ever-changing information needs. 

References:

  1. "Gartner Survey of 1,400 CIOs Shows Transformation of IT Organization is Accelerating." Gartner Inc., 23 January 2006.
  2. "Getting Smart About BI: Best Practices Deliver Real Value." BusinessWeek Research Services, September 2006.                 

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