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Dresner’s Point: Business Intelligence Initiatives Often Have Knotty Value

By May 20, 2013Article

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom … it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …” Of course that’s the renowned beginning of Charles Dickens’ 1859 historical novel, “A Tale of Two Cities;” but it could equally describe a company at the on-ramp for a business intelligence initiative. 

Consistently in our annual Wisdom of Crowds® Business Intelligence Market Study, survey respondents state that making better decisions is their primary goal for business intelligence. Or, as a participant in my weekly #BI Wisdom tweetchat sessions stated, the top goal is “making better decisions — faster.” 

Our tweet chat group (BI users, analysts, consultants and vendors) honed in one Friday on a key aspect of that goal: What must those decisions accomplish? Their reasoning boiled down to creating value, and it manifests itself in two accomplishments:

  1. Taming the bottom line
  2. Finding pearls, or gems of wisdom. 

Thus a BI strategy focuses on financial benefits — it informs the process of achieving cost savings or revenue generation. 

But the fact is some BI investments are left dangling. As one member tweeted, “An executive told me his company has invested $150 million in information infrastructure to support reporting teams, but the top 200 executives don’t use it at all.” 

So what are the causes for dangling BI initiatives — even when the strategy is ushered down from on high in the C-suite? 

At the C-level, things are very fluid. Priorities can change in a minute and the BI solution may be too slow to modify to the new strategy if the proper BI tools aren’t deployed to the execs. 

Or, as some participants in our tweetchat stated, BI outcomes may tell a story the decision makers don’t want to hear; so they go into denial. Unfortunately, this can appear to others to be a failed BI initiative.   

At many levels BI information can reveal flaws in internal practices. The past has a way of catching up to us. Capitalizing on the information in a BI outcome may require internal change that is on a collision course with legacy processes and IT systems. It can result in a situation full of knotty issues if the executives don’t have what it takes to make big changes. 

Bottom line: As much as I firmly believe that organizations can gain significant value from the insights resulting from their BI initiatives if they have the right strategy in place, I also believe some won’t leverage that knowledge. So perhaps incentive compensation for the top executives should be part of the BI strategy. It would motivate them to be open to changing processes and even culture where necessary. 

And incentives should align to goals with measurable outcomes. This is especially important in organizational cultures where decisions have not historically been data driven or are typically made in a vacuum. In an organization that is not open to learning and is resistant to change, the culture tends to trump knowledge and technology.  

Most companies recognize that they are throwing away money if they can’t trace new business to their marketing initiatives. Similarly, the trail from a BI initiative to its results should be visible. It’s just good business. 

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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