Whoa! Hold your horses. If this is indeed a key challenge that you’ve tried to address in the past without much success, consider switching jobs. This is not a joke.

Business intelligence (BI) is an employee market right now; a key challenge for most BI employers is finding, recruiting, and retaining top — or actually any, for that matter — BI talent. Consider that IBM BAO alone added more than 4,000 (!) BI positions in just over a year! Every other major, midsize, and boutique BI consultancy I talk to is struggling to find BI resources. So if you’ve been fighting this uphill Sisyphean battle for a while, consider new channels for your noble efforts.

Now, some more practical advice — albeit not as exciting. Start from the top down. In a few minutes I am getting ready to talk to yet another large client whose CEO does not “get” BI. Can you rightfully blame him/her? Yes and no. Yes, because how can you manage any business without measurement and insight into your internal and external processes?

So if your CEO didn’t learn that in his/her MBA 101, suggest that he/she look for another job. And if you’re still standing after that and have suffered only a mild concussion, consider that many BI projects have been less than successful, and ROI on BI — one of the most expensive enterprise apps — is extremely difficult to show. So can you really blame your CEO?

While there are many successful BI projects out there with tangible ROI (either cost savings/cost avoidance or revenue/profitability increase), they are indeed just that: individual projects, solutions, and applications. There is no business case — or at least none that I am aware of — for “enterprise” BI out there with tangible, proven benefits that disprove reverse causality and eliminate all other variables. Many vendor-hyped white papers are out there, but there’s nothing real, tangible, and repeatable. I found one study that comes close, but it’s very academic and I’ve seen no real-life business application of that approach. However, it is a good read and I highly recommend it for everyone who’s struggling with the basic question posed in this article. If anything, it will show the readers how incomplete, thin, and overhyped most of the vendor-sponsored BI ROI studies are.

Here’s a practical suggestion. Start measuring your BI maturity on a quarterly basis using the Forrester model, compare yourself to your peers and competitors, and then — here’s the key part — start tracking potential correlations between your BI maturity and other corporate performance metrics like revenue growth, profit margins, stock price, and industry ranking. If you do find a correlation, you’ve hit a gold mine and your BI project budgets are safe for the foreseeable future. If you do not, it’s time to stop and reassess your BI strategy. Why isn’t it having an impact on your top and bottom lines? Are you concentrating on the right applications? Are your business stakeholders on board with you and convinced that they are getting real value from BI? Are you addressing key business pain points? Or are you, God forbid, doing BI just for the sake of BI?

If you are successful in changing the minds of your top business executives, the next step is the individual business users. Once again, I am proposing a nonstandard but a very pragmatic approach. Unfortunately, BI is not a grassroots environment. One can’t tell a business user: “Stop using Excel, start using our new enterprise BI apps, and your life will become rosy and wonderful.” No, no, no! That’ll be the end of your good relationship with your business counterparts and they will forever label you and your efforts as an “IT nuisance.” Admit that their life will become more difficult, but it’s got to be done for the sake of a single version of the truth, better collaborative decision making, etc, etc, etc.

But you have to give these people something in return, as we human beings will probably never do something “just because” someone says so. It goes against our human nature. So everyone has to have some individual, personal incentive. And what can be more effective as an incentive than tying the usage of enterprise BI to individual performance reviews, which could affect BI users’ variable/incentive compensation? My apologies for being this blunt, but I have indeed seen multiple cases where this works extremely well.

In order to implement this approach, you need BI on your BI environment to understand who uses (or doesn’t use) your BI applications — and when and how. You can get this data from most of your BI tools and/or databases. If you have multiple tools, consider Appfluent or Teleran, which will provide you these statistics on multiple BI tools and multiple DBMSes. If much of your BI environment is locked in spreadsheets or file-based desktop applications like Microsoft Access, you can monitor their usage using tools from vendors like CIMCON Software, ClusterSeven, Finsbury Solutions, Lyquidity, and Prodiance. If it sounds like BI on BI may become a project of its own — well, you’re right, it certainly will. We strongly advocate that BI on BI become a function of your BI center of excellence (COE) or competency center (CC).

This blog originally appeared at Forrester Research.

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