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Dresner’s Point: In Business Intelligence, Trust is an Elephant in the Room

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Lack of trust is one of the greatest, and mostly unspoken, barriers to success in business intelligence programs. Like the proverbial elephant, it has a huge presence, but most people don’t talk about it within their corporate setting and thus don’t correct the situation. 

At one of my #BIWisdom tweetchats held each Friday on Twitter, a participant commented that the lack of trust is “like data security – it isn’t a concern until it bites you.” Those so-called “bites” are likely to occur more frequently now in the contexts of trusting the data as well as trusting people. Here’s why:

  1. Analytics architectures are more distributed, which requires trust in the data. And advanced analytics emphasize data/source verification.
  2. The growth of cloud BI and mobile BI also exacerbate the issue as they enable collaboration, and people need to trust the people with whom they collaborate.  

Since 2012, trust pops up regularly in the conversations about BI success or failure drivers in my #BIWisdom tweetchats where the discussions among customers, vendors and analysts are more open to express opinions than they might be within a corporate context. As one tribe member commented in a tweet, “Many issues identified as reasons for failure have the same root cause – lack of trust. Unfortunately, the level of trust hasn’t improved in at least the last five years.” 

And it’s getting worse. Our 2015 Wisdom of Crowds® Market Study found the number of users who trust their data as “truth” is lower this year than a year ago. 

The #BIWisdom folks framed the perspectives in the trust issue at a recent tweetchat:

  • “The data discovery process should in no way kill the ability for users to explore and gain new insights. But it must be trusted data.”
  • “Trust with whom? Business and IT?” ”
  • “Trust should absolutely be two-way behavior. I’m wondering if IT has been making an effort but the business has not? What can IT do to foster trust on the part of the business?”
  • “I suspect there is a backlash from IT to limit broad-based deployments among users.”
  • “An inability to explain the lineage from report to source breeds lack of trust.”
  • “Collaboration is cooperation of multiple parties. It requires trust between IT and BI users to be successful.”
  • “Trust in the data requires governance. Who is responsible for data integrity? In the world of data discovery, desktop users are departmental and server users are corporate. Who truly owns the issue of governance: IT, business, corporate?”
  • “Governance should be collaborative. If either the biz or IT attempts it solo, it won’t work.”
  • “The IT/user relationship hasn’t been equal or collaborative. There is fault on both sides.”
  • “I think the move to self-service BI has ignored the governance issue. I would argue that it has certainly downplayed it or confused it in the eyes of inexperienced users.” 

As their tweeted opinions illustrate, there is a clash of interests between IT and the business users (and sometimes the BI team), and these perspectives cause them to differ on identifying the source of the trust problem. 

Bottom line: Don’t sidestep discussing the issue of trust. The trust gap is a huge problem, and it requires excellent management to overcome it. Governance should be owned by everyone. If IT or the business owns it solely, it becomes political and causes trust issues. And if the governance layer is too restrictive or users see limited or no benefit, they’ll continue to find ways around it. 

Organizations need a team tasked with bridging the gap between IT and business users (hopefully having credibility in both camps). Otherwise, politics enter the picture and the result is one side saying “We don’t trust the data.” 

In-house training can go a long way in helping users understand the relevance to data they want to include. Business user education is a challenge but also a big opportunity. It can save companies innumerable errors. 

I highly recommend a Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC) for housing a team to bridge the gap between business users and IT. It’s the ideal home for data governance, conducting in-house training and sharing what does or doesn’t work in the organization. We’ll publish our report on our study of BICCs later this year. 

A BICC is also an important forum for discussing elephants in the room. But it must be viewed as a strategic partner to all parties rather than an unnecessary middleman. 

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.

 

 

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