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Dresner’s Point: Are We Building for Collapse-Proof Business Intelligence?

By December 6, 2012Article

At one of my recent Friday #BIWisdom tweetchats, we began talking about innovation in business intelligence products. But that quickly exposed a controversy that changed the direction of our chat to a common ailment in today’s business world: the business side, end users and IT can no longer exist as though they are in a parallel universe.

Advances in self-service functionality in BI for 2013 will be tough in the real world without solid IT involvement, tribe members tweeted. But they added that will require advances in cooperation between users and IT. That will be problematic, as reflected in the group’s tweets both pro and con:

  • “Biz wants no dependency on IT due to long delivery cycles, bad performance and low value.”
  • “Most users are not good at complex data preparation!”
  • “IT doesn’t know the business well enough to prepare the data any better.”
  • “Biz needs more IT liaisons, but the most talented IT professionals tend to be introverts.”
  • “IT can leverage existing source code, an advantage for BI.”
  •  “There are examples of users and IT partnering to accomplish cross-understanding, but that’s not often the case. “
  • “IT has tentacles in all parts of the biz so it can integrate the whole. Individual biz units don’t have this advantage.”

That last tweet led to corporate leadership coming under fire, with the following as the first tweeted volley: “When’s the last time a CEO said, ‘I need it now, but integrate first?’ The desire for fast IT implementation kills the ability to integrate.”

A member tweeted that more and more CFOs are “highjacking BI.” BI shouldn’t reside with the CFO in any case, tweeted another. But another held out that CFOs are a good choice because they have governance responsibility, are known for accuracy and know the financial meaning of the data. The CIO as BI head seemed pretty iffy too. A CDSO (Chief Data Science Officer) or CBIO (Chief Business Intelligence Officer) seemed reasonably safe, but someone tweeted that they would “need a stunning set of skills.”

#BIWisdom tribe members come from all perspectives: vendors and software developers, business executives, and consultants, and it’s always easy to beat up on “the other side.”  However, the folks shed some light on how the relationship between IT and users is often managed:

  • “Smooth at times, complicated sometimes, and a disaster from time to time.”
  • “Often too much effort.”
  • “Fair to middling at best. In some cases, good people trump bad management.”

And a tribe member described his company having to establish a new team because neither the IT nor the biz side understood the other and the relationship broke down completely. Bridging the tacit knowledge on both sides required expertise, and it became easier to build a new team than to fix a “busted environment.”

BI departments have a tough role, the group decided. They must know the data, the business, the technology, and be able to get inside users’ heads to determine what they want — no easy task.

Bottom line: Neither way is easier and both sides have a duty to ensure domain knowledge of the other side. BI needs more IT and user partnering, as they are absolutely essential to each other if BI initiatives are to succeed rather than collapse with little ROI. To do this, organizations must start to think differently and take action in these areas:

  • Train the IT team on the business perspectives.
  • Hire biz people with more IT knowledge but who will keep the business objectives as the major driver.
  • Establish internal programs to facilitate cross-training and understanding between IT and biz.

And colleges need to get on board. If colleges do their job in building cross-understanding between IT and biz users, BI will have a brighter future and both sides can work effectively toward creating innovative solutions.

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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