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Dresner Study Reveals Priorities in Collaborative BI Functionalities

By September 16, 2012Article

When we did the analysis of data and findings from last year’s annual study on business intelligence, there was evidence that the notion of collaborative business intelligence (BI) was resonating. I believe this is an important movement in the BI space, so this year we added a new section addressing collaborative BI.

It’s clear that the demand for collaborative capabilities is on the rise. Of the 859 completed surveys, 40 percent of respondents stated collaborative BI is “critical” or “very important” to their organizations. At the same time, the other findings in our 2012 Wisdom of Crowds™ Collaborative Business Intelligence Market Study paint a picture of a nascent market dynamic.

If it’s so critical, why haven’t more organizations adopted it? The survey findings show that some organizations have cracked the code on this and see that there’s real value in using something that’s more focused on particular projects and on business intelligence to drive to better decisions. The organizations that indicated the highest interest in collaborative BI are those that perceive themselves to have been successful with business intelligence.

Some organizations just haven’t crossed the chasm yet and are still doing it the old-fashioned way. In fact, the majority of respondents in this nascent market stated their top mechanisms for BI collaboration today are email, face-to-face meetings and telephone calls.

Obviously none of these three mechanisms is optimal for sharing insights. Email is especially ineffective because people get a series of emails that are all over the place every day with different subject matters and different levels of extraction. Then they have to put them in context. Using collaborative BI software makes sense because, by definition, it’s in context.

Which organizations are capitalizing on the value of collaborative BI?

Forty-two percent of the survey respondents were from midsize organizations, 32 percent represented small organizations, and 26 percent were from very large organizations. When we slice and dice the survey data by organization size and other segments, there is a definite difference in interest in collaborative BI software. As with other new technologies, we’re seeing a “u-shaped” adoption curve, where very large and very small organizations have stronger interest and perceive the greatest value.

Small organizations. Collaborative BI resonates strongly with small organizations because everything is distributed; everything they do is external, with external constituents. Some people they interact with are on the other side of the world. Having a collaborative component in their analytical activities is more than handy. In addition, they are among the early adopters because they are able to execute a lot more quickly than large organizations.

Large organizations. Large organizations have issues with trying to bring everybody together into a discussion — not just around business intelligence, but around anything. Coordination becomes really crucial. Collaborative BI software resonates more with large organizations than midsize organizations because they have this coordination problem in spades. They have geographic issues and time zone issues. People are not collocated together; some work at home or are on the road. So getting everybody together and having a discussion, virtual or otherwise, is extremely difficult.

Although the study shows that there is a stronger interest among larger organizations, turning that interest into activity and projects is another thing altogether. They have issues with inertia and budgets. A large organization’s decision to invest in collaborative BI requires a compelling business case with case studies, best practices and, heaven forbid, ROI analysis.

Sales and marketing. When we look at the survey data on which business functions are keenly interested, more than half of the sales and marketing people say it’s “critical” or “very important.” They have their own budgets. So in many instances we’re finding that the business folks, not unlike business intelligence itself, are going to make the investment in collaborative BI.

Salesforce Chatter ranks high in the survey, and it’s purchased by and used by sales people. This is another indicator of the nascent paradigm. Adoption is high where the users see a real advantage to having collaborative BI as an adjunct to other mechanisms for communication and perceive it as a way to drive toward some sort of a decision much more quickly than if they didn’t have it.

Midsize organizations. Although the survey revealed limited interest on the part of midsize organizations, they clearly would derive benefits from collaborative BI. However, they lack the resources of large organizations and are not agile enough to take advantage of it like the small organizations.

Perception of importance. Those that have been very successful with business intelligence see collaboration as a way to optimize and to maximize the impact of business intelligence. But our study also reveals that even the respondents that reported their organizations have been unsuccessful with business intelligence to date still believe that collaboration in BI is “fairly important.”

It’s possible that they hope that adding collaboration to their BI initiatives will result in more success. But I think they probably will be unsuccessful with that rationale. Clearly, organizations whose BI initiatives have been successful have a data-driven culture. So for them, collaborative BI has a multiplier effect because they already have laid the foundation for using data to make decisions.

Misaligned customer and vendor priorities

We asked the vendor community to indicate current and future support for collaborative BI. We also compared user requirements to vendor capabilities for core collaborative functionality. For the most part they are aligned (on annotation, sharing and co-authoring, for instance), but there are some mismatches. They’re not aligned on some other functionalities such as mobile capabilities or the notion of following objects in real time.

Vendors have to bet on new functionality far ahead of adoption. So there’s definitely going to be some catch-up that’s going to have to take place within the industry over the next 24 months. Vendors clearly indicated that mobile capabilities will be a big focus in the next 12 months. Users want to be able to collaborate on business intelligence at the moment they need to, wherever they are.

Ability to analyze and audit the BI decision process

Our study revealed that capturing the evolution of an analysis and doing an audit was the second most-popular feature when connecting BI to an enterprise collaborative framework (e.g., SharePoint, Google Docs). Very large organizations as well as very small organizations ranked it as “most important.”

The objective for this feature within a broader collaborative framework is to be able to co-author an analysis or to be able to share an analysis and receive commentary on that. And that discussion could be asynchronous (like discussion threads), or it could be synchronous (real time like a chat). Users want to capture that whole process so they can analyze the decision process they went through.

Most organizations don’t do this, and a lot of folks will feel threatened by it. But increasingly organizations recognize they need to do this for two reasons. We need to know what works, what are the best practices in BI decision making, and we need to know what was known when an organization made a decision. Beyond best practices, this information could be required as part of the discovery process in legal matters.

Having the ability to go back and audit the decision process will reveal information such as:

  • How did we come to this decision?
  • What information was available at the time?
  • Who was part of the decision process?
  • What was the discussion like?

This kind of analysis will introduce a lot of organizational change, and it could cause far-reaching impacts that are greater than from other technologies.  It’s not really about auditing; it’s about how to get all the right people in the process to have a discussion and to share insights.

Importance of functionality to “follow BI objects”

We also examined the prioritization of “core” collaborative BI functionality. As I expected, annotation and sharing ranked as top functionalities. We expected that “following BI objects” would rank higher than it did, as there is a lot of this type of activity today. The system alerts a user when a BI object changes because of someone adding a project, adding a comment or annotation, sending a message or updating data, for instance.

Respondents in sales and marketing ranked it as more “critical” and “very important,” more than the respondents in IT, executive management, finance, or others.

Collaboration baked in

The majority of survey respondents indicated that they want the collaborative capability built into the business intelligence tool. They expect it to be inherent to the tool and not require some sort of external framework to do that collaboration.

The good news is that 81 percent of the vendors indicated that they do not charge for their collaborative capabilities — a positive sign for users interested in adoption.

Barriers to adopting collaborative BI

If collaborative BI functionalities are already baked into the product and the user doesn’t incur a cost for it, why don’t more organizations use it? I believe there are four reasons:

  1. In some cases, uses don’t know it’s available in the product.
  2. It has not been implemented by the IT staff.
  3. Users are not trained to use it.
  4. The users really don’t want to share. I think it really speaks to the old axiom: Knowledge is power. If I share my knowledge with you, I dilute my power.

Collaborative BI is about change. Technologically, it’s not huge change; culturally, however, it is huge. If you want to succeed with a collaborative BI environment, you need to be a little bit more transparent. And that’s very hard for most organizations to do.

But I think it’s just a matter of time. Inevitably, the notion of collaborative BI is going to be a much more productive experience than what organizations are doing today, which is very haphazard.

It still has to mature. Today there is a lot of variability in the functionality. We can view this through the lens of thinking back to early sales force automation tools. Few salespeople wanted them because they really weren’t tools for the salesperson; they were tools for management to monitor and analyze what sales was doing and analyze the pipeline, etc. Over time, they have matured quite a bit, and there’s a lot in there for the average sales rep or sales manager that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago.

It’s an evolutionary process. Initially it’s an anathema; people resist adopting something new because it requires that they change the way they behave. But eventually it will catch on.

The things that we’re using today were unheard of 20-30 years ago. In operations, people use workflow all the time; that’s how they get things done. But not 20 years ago. And how many people used email 25-30 years ago? Virtually nobody; but it was there. Now it’s a staple. Who doesn’t use email today?

Eventually we’ll get there with collaborative BI because there is a pressing need and there will be clear economic benefits for doing so. And the more distributed and global organizations become, the greater the need.

The 48-page report on the 2012 Wisdom of Crowds ™ Collaborative Business Intelligence Market Study is available on in paperback, and through Apple iTunes in iBook format. The report includes user priorities vs. vendor capabilities, prioritized technology initiatives strategic to BI, technology initiatives by function, BI collaboration feature requirements, synchronous vs. asynchronous sharing by function and organization size, importance of enterprise collaborative frameworks, structured vs. ad hoc workflow, follow BI objects by function, and more.

The Wisdom of Crowds™ Collaborative Business Intelligence Market Study was conceived and executed by Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm, and Howard Dresner, its president, founder and chief research officer. Howard Dresner 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.” 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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