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Dresner’s Point: Why do Some BI Sprouts Lead to Failure?

by Dashboard Insight, Dashboard InsightFriday, January 31, 2014

Over the years of conducting our Wisdom of Crowds® Business Intelligence Market Study on various aspects of BI the percentage of respondents that report success with their BI initiatives increases each time. Yet there are still some that report failures.

Success begets even more success, of course. What enables an outcome of “mission accomplished” and what causes failures? This has been a topic of debates several times in our Friday #BIWisdom tweetchats.

Our market studies consistently reveal that key contributors to success are management commitment, organizational stability, focused implementation and requisite skills. So it follows that the opposite characteristics would lead to failure: lack of management commitment, unstable organization and lack of skills.

But my #BIWisdom tweetchat participants have expanded that picture with their real-world experiences as users, vendors and consultants. In our debates, they swept past the key characteristics and honed in on a central issue — How do organizations decide that a BI implementation failed?

Is the deciding factor that the company does poorly, or that the users are dissatisfied, or is it a combination of both factors? And what constitutes a “user” in this aspect; is it only users with decision authority? Is the deciding factor among end users the fact that vendors say the technology answers problems all on its own and thus there is not enough emphasis on process, training, briefings, change management? Is it the lack of a long-term vision and commitment, which then causes the BI solution to go stale and subsequently be perceived as a failure?

Failure is a relevant term; in some organizations the IT department may say the BI initiative is a success but end users say it’s a failure because they can’t use the tool.

A participant tweeted that evaluating whether or not a BI implementation fails should be like a doctor’s evaluation, checking for various symptoms to determine whether the implementation is “healthy.” From their own experiences, the #BIWisdom participants came up with a list of “symptoms” criteria for evaluating success or failure.

Someone tweeted that user adoption is the only symptom that counts. Someone else stated that it isn’t the only criterion, but it’s the most important one. Another participant disagreed, saying that it’s important that the users adopt a tool that delivers correct data and information.

Another tweeted that early adoption is critical. And someone else countered that an influential stakeholder’s adoption is the most critical factor, adding that “one negative C-level opinion is all it takes for failure.” One person stated that success requires “adoption from the C-suite to the shop floor.”

Several #BIWisdom folks pointed out that each department head in an organization might have different success criteria —ease of use, governance, integration, for example. And several opined that revenue and growth are the most important success criteria.

Another tweeted opinion is that success with BI analytics tools requires corresponding transformation of business processes.

And there was this bit of tweeted wisdom: “Failure is any BI deliverable that doesn’t result in a changed process or decisions. Otherwise, what was the point of the initiative?”

So the discussion shifted to context and actionability as well as measurement of success.

“But how can you measure ‘understanding?’” asked one of the group. “And what if you can’t prove you improved?” Another participant added that some business processes don’t lend themselves to measurement. So it’s “a bit like a scientist’s problem of mere observation impacting results of an experiment,” he added.

I think this tweet sums up the final opinions of the group: “It’s fair to say that evaluation of success or failure is a measurement of whether the BI initiative enabled change. After all, if it just proves your organization is perfect, the expense of evaluating the outcome isn’t justified.”

Bottom line: Of course failures also are learning experiences. But my experience and observation is that in successful organizations business intelligence is how people stay aligned with the mission and strategy. Therefore, if BI is that crucial to an organization’s success, it begs the question: Does the BI industry do enough to ensure initial customer success with BI tools and solutions?

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Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.

Article originally published on the Business Intelligence Blog.

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