There's a standard list of reasons why BI projects fail: Inability to meet business requirements, lack of support from senior management, poor data quality, inadequate user training, performance problems, and old-fashioned bad development and testing efforts. Toss in people's tendency to resist change, and you have your work cut out for you if you hope to launch a system that will be accepted quickly. But what if your team has met all of these common roadblocks or at least come close? You have a system that is loading consistent, clean data that meets user requirements. Data load and report performance are great. You've sent out the help guides and user documentation. What else can you do? Consider your change management approach specific to public relations. Have you marketed the benefits of your application to the user base? Whether you're part of a small company or a Fortune 500 organization, if you have 20 users or 20,000 users, getting the word out about your application is a key to success.
One component of your PR campaign should be a written communication to users - maybe a section in a newsletter or a dedicated email. I've seen organizations use this approach successfully a few different ways. One way is to consistently send a communication on a monthly or quarterly basis. The communication has standard information and a special section. The special section should share information on new applications and new functionality, where to find documentation or how to request training. This approach is fine, but as email inboxes become more crowded, sometimes mass-distributed letters get overlooked. I prefer sending targeted communications to users of the system in the weeks leading up to a release. Alerts to a Web seminar or pointing out the top-five reasons the new BI application will make their lives better can be great attention-getters. Screenshots of new reports, graphs and FAQs are eye-catching ways to entice the reader beyond the subject line to really think about the new application. One key to remember is that the communications should be short and should contain valuable information with links to more details. Wordy emails to a large distribution list tend to be overlooked by busy email readers. I suggest a format that contains a brief introduction, a teaser about new data, functionality or lists, and a section that remains constant with standard information, such as who to contact with data questions, how to request a login and how to request new information. End-user training is another critical component of a BI application PR campaign. User time is valuable, and while it is necessary to provide written information about accessing and navigating the end-user portion of the applications, live training provides a great opportunity to sell the system. Schedule a time with users dedicated to showing off how the system is going to make their lives easier. Training on real data is far more effective from a PR perspective than training on sample data. When creating the exercises for the class, try to build them so that they tell a realistic story that will showcase the business benefits of the system, not just the technical functionality of the tool. This will help users understand that they can learn new things from the system that will be valuable in their jobs. Determine where the largest gaps are in the current reporting environment and focus your training exercises on the solution to those problems.
Another very useful tactic to get users involved during training is to have a human "plant" or two in the audience. Find a few users that will help you by asking questions early during the training class. The first question is always the toughest to get. Many times, the first question will spur other questions or a general discussion about the topic at hand.
Many functional uses for BI applications stretch beyond the traditional reporting role that data warehouses and marts have filled for years. The PR work for these applications is less important. If the information is being integrated into an operational system or workflow, it will most certainly be used. Users still need encouragement to use traditional BI systems, regardless of how correct and easy to use as the information might be. This should always come from senior management, but solid marketing can help make the hard work invested in your BI application really pay off. In some ways it is like medicine; it's good for us, but sometimes we avoid it. Making it taste better helps.
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