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Dresner’s Point: Boosting User Adoption is a Critical Success Distinction in Business Intelligence

By June 20, 2016Article

“How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose,” stated Bill Gates. That’s a lot of what we track in our annual Dresner Advisory Services Wisdom of Crowds(R) Business Intelligence Market Study. And attendees’ attention was sharp at one of my weekly #BIWisdom tweetchat sessions where I revealed some findings of our 2016 report before it was released to the public. 

One of the significant findings of the study is that user adoption or penetration (meaning the number of BI users as a percentage of the overall population of an organization) grew noticeably in all sizes of organizations from 2015 to 2016. The level of penetration has increased annually, but it was noticeably stronger this year than from 2014 to 2015. 

In fact, the study found that lower levels of penetration declined since 2015 while higher levels increased. I tweeted to the group that my narrative for this is that smaller successful BI implementations “graduated” to larger ones while new implementations also occurred in the past year. 

One of the #BIWisdom tribe tweeted a response: “I’m willing to bet the greater penetration is a mix of tools and data-driven applications to service a diverse set of use cases.” That opinion sparked tweeted observations from the group of users, consultants and vendors about the impact of operations:

  • “In my opinion, operations taking a greater role in driving BI is a factor. More people are recognizing that the value of their data increases when put in the hands of people on the front lines.”
  • “Too many times people measure BI user adoption using IT admin logs, but those logs typically are not a true measure of adoption.” 

I shared with the group that our study found that, for the first time, operations moved ahead of executives in 2016 as the leading driver of business intelligence initiatives. Study participants also reported that the scalability and more predictable success has enabled Operations BI to have a higher success rate. 

Another in the group tweeted an important question: “Which is more critical – adoption or return on investment (ROI)?” And the group was off on the path of answering with their real-world experiences:

  • “The goal of BI implementation is less about adoption and more about ROI; but, without adoption, ROI is less likely.”
  • “Adoption and ROI are two different animals, and there might be some correlation, but not necessarily.”
  • “I would have to disagree. ROI is directly proportionate to adoption of the results of BI, which are driven by users.”
  • “The problem with ROI around BI is that it is very subjective for each group of users.
  • “IT always defines a project as ‘success’ if it delivers what is in the requirements document.”
  • “The bigger issue is that the exact numerical value of what success looks like is not defined up front. It has to be defined up front by the business and then measured profusely. But quick wins can be measured for 60-90-day increment milestones.”
  • “Too often I find that defining success is a rapidly moving target. Good BI is flexible.”
  • “The business is flexible on the definition of success and hence ROI, but IT believes in a static definition.”
  • “How about we forget BI user adoption as an ROI measure and just track how the business is doing post implementation?”
  • “No, that’s too easy to manipulate and will likely end up with a poor outcome.”
  • “In my opinion, user adoption is baked into ROI and there cannot be one without the other. The more critical measure is how much ROI per user.” 

That session of the #BIWisdom group ended with a bit of humor and a couple of great insights:

  • “One of the hardest things when trying to increase user adoption is knowing when to walk away and let them come around to the idea.”
  • “I had a general manager who simplified that into the statement ‘People change or people change.’”
  • “To drive adoption via positive means, build the BI asset that’s so valuable that users can’t do their jobs without getting on board.” 

Bottom line: For business intelligence programs to succeed strategically, you need both a top-down and bottom-up approach. 

I agree with the group’s tweets that the number of tools designed with users in mind has helped increase adoption, and the more modern tools enable uptake of BI. But greater penetration is due to more than tools. Our 2016 Wisdom of Crowds(R) Business Intelligence Market Study found that BI success and the state of data are directly related. It also found that the action on insights correlates with BI success; in other words, organizations that are transparent and share insights openly create a context for success with business intelligence. 

These state-of-data and action-on-insights factors are important because success with business intelligence and user adoption or penetration are actually two sides of the same coin. In fact, our study reveals that successful BI organizations achieve the greatest user adoption. So the greatest contributor to user adoption/penetration is success with BI, and success breeds success. 

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.