“Gartner sees a big discrepancy between BI expectations and realities” – Intelligent Enterprise

Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen at Intelligent Enterprise reports from the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit in Washington D.C., explaining that Gartner analysts John Van Decker and Kurt Schlegel cited five reasons why BI projects do not live up to expectations (article link here):

  1. No IT-Business Partnership – “We have to get away from thinking of it as a vendor-customer relationship,” said Schlegel.
  2. No Link to Corporate Strategy – BI team have to listen to the executives and develop metrics and measures that are aligned with their goals.
  3. No connection to the Process – “BI has been overtly disconnected for too long,” Schlegel proclaimed. It’s not enough to deliver the right information to the right users. You have to insert those insights into the processes and interfaces that business users live in every day.”
  4. No Governance or Too Much – It has to be just the right amount of governance. BI grew up departmentally, so it’s all too common to have many silos of BI. At the other extreme, some companies are so uptight about data standards that companies can’t get their data into the warehouse.
  5. No Skills – Business users often lack skills, chimed in Van Decker, citing the one area where the business side was said to be falling short. “Most companies have very sophisticated capabilities available that folks just aren’t taking advantage of,” he said, pointing to corporate performance management (CPM) software as a leading example.

I come close to the situation of words failing me when I read a list like this (though not close enough to prevent me penning an article of course). I appreciate that maybe a public seminar is not the easiest place to provide deep insights (I present a lot myself), but the commentary against each of the problem areas seems odd to me. I’m not sure that these are really the five reasons for BI continuing to disappoint in some organisations, while it continues to delight in others, but here are my thoughts on each headline.

  1. No IT-Business Partnership – We have to stop talking about IT and Business as if they were two parties trying to negotiate a cease-fire. IT is a business department, it carries out business projects. It would be ridiculous to say that there needs to be a Sales-Business Partnership, it should be equally so with IT. I expand on this theme in the very first article on this blog.
  2. No Link to Corporate Strategy – There should not be a link to Corporate Strategy, BI does not exist as a separate entity that requires linkage. Instead BI work should be an expression of Corporate Strategy (as should any IT project), what else is it an expression of? This is not about listening to executives (though that is important) it is about IT being part of the senior management team of an organisation and not some semi-detached entity, focussed only on the beauty of its own navel. I give some indication of how to go about ensuring that this is the case in two articles, one focussed on a European environment and one spanning four continents.
  3. No connection to the Process – I agree that embedding good BI in a coporoate culture requires effort (indeed I have written a series of articles on the subject, starting with this one), however I struggle to see how any BI team could fail to realise this and pay the area due attention. If this is truly a reason for failure, then it is because of a lack of basic project and change management skills in BI teams.
  4. No Governance or Too Much – I’m not sure that achieving the Goldilocks approach to Governance is the issue here. BI’s impact on an organisation is directly proportional to how pervasive it is. This means that silos of BI reduce value and the walls need to be knocked in. Does this have to be all in one go? of course not, there are always benefits in a balance between incremental progress and paradigm shifts. Any organisation who has gatekeepers who refuse access to the warehouse because of and overly rigid approach to data standards is going to have problems. Equally where systems are developed with little thought to the information that they provide and data is simply thrown over the wall to the BI team, this is going to destroy value. As ever, there needs to be a sensible balance struck, one that yields the greatest business benefit for the lowest cost.
  5. No Skills – “Business users often lack skills”, this seems both incredibly patronising (are only IT people smart enough to get it?) and also a poor excuse for BI teams not paying enough attention to education (see point 3. above). If business people truly lack the skills to use good BI, then they are probably unfit to be in business as the tools are pretty intuitive (if not over-engineered by an approach that is too technology-focussed). More likely, training has been poor, or the BI deliveries have failed to be tailored to answering questions that the business wants to ask.

In summary, I don’t have five reasons for BI failing to live up to expectations, I have one. I firmly believe that BI done well is both the easiest of IT systems to sell to people and has one of the highest paybacks of any IT initiative. BI done badly (at the design, development, implementation or follow-up stages) will fail.

The issue is basically a simple one: just how good is your BI team? If a BI implementation fails to deliver significant business value, then instead of looking for scape-goats, the BI team should purchase a mirror and start using it.

Continue reading about this area in: Some reasons why IT projects fail
Doug Henschen joined Intelligent Enterprise as Editor in 2004 and was named Editor-in-Chief in January 2007. He has specialized in covering the intersection of business intelligence, performance management, business process management and rules management technologies within enterprise applications and architectures. He previously served as Editor-in-Chief of Transform Magazine, which covered content management and business process management challenges.

I comment on another Intelligent Enterprise article, this one by Cindi Howson, here.

23 thoughts on ““Gartner sees a big discrepancy between BI expectations and realities” – Intelligent Enterprise

  1. I have been in the BI industry for 20 years, and believe the failure to implement alot of the traditional BI products is how the software is being marketed as a simple to use and install solution. Great job at marketing products from the big players but these solutions are difficult to implement and are very expensive in consulting fees.

    I do see however, that newer products with the newer technologies and are truly easy to install do fail. I see two reasons why they fail: 1-Someone at a C level needs to identify the needs and vision of what is needed 2-Most BI Teams I have worked with do understand how to implement, the issue I really see is a lack of vision and direction from the top. In addition, IT Staff is usually overwhelmed with the work load and do not get the support needed to successfully implement not only a BI solutin but others brought into the organize.

    Allie Gentry

  2. Hi Allie,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    While there is truth in what you say, I think all of us in IT can on occasion hide behind saying that there is not enough executive support.

    For starters, if executives truly don’t support BI, then I can see no reason for BI projects even starting, what are they meant to be achieving?

    Second, maybe comments like this reflect IT’s failure to engage with senior management. This results in our retreat, often sulking and complaining about how unfair it all is. In these cases, IT is part of the problem in my opinion.

  3. Liked your comments on what Gartner was saying. For the most part, IT is the business and the artificial separations are unhelpful.

    I rarely read “why tech project X fails” articles because they’re almost always useless. The fundamental reasons IT projects fail have been documented repeatedly since the 1970s, and they almost universally boil down to bad management (which include bad framing of the problem, bad design, bad project management).

    Solving the right problem in the right way is just not stylish and fashionable enough, so we partition each type of technology project into a special bin and then promote “5 reasons why” when they fail the normal 50% of the time.

  4. Clearly organizations are maturing in their approach to BI. Many companies are attempting to improve data handling, storage and quality. There’s a recognition that it would cost less if we didn’t have half a dozen vendors selling us essentially the same tools. However, there isn’t much discussion about the lack of standardization and control over the process that turns raw data into information or BI. Is this the next big step in the maturation of BI in our organizations? Much of the progress to date has been justified through arguments for greater efficiency and lower cost. It will take more than a logical argument to complete this next phase. The forces that keep the silos in place will also resist governance from data warehouse to excel as it provides ambiguity to spin a story disconnected from fact.

    • Data standardization is going to be difficult because data is not created thinking BI in mind. But the other way round. As of now, the next big thing in BI is how to make BI flexible enough to make sure of any data – structured or unstructured. Imagine the volume of data available over the web. We cannot restrict the format of all of that.

      • Hi Tombi,

        I think for the majority of organisations unstructured data is a red herring (there are the obvious exceptions, but these people are already leading the game in this area). Most organisations struggle with turning highly structured data in to information – better to learn to crawl before walking or running?


    • Ron – only four years later :-o

      I 100% agree that there is not (even four years later) enough focus on Information Management as opposed to expecting BI to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.


  5. […] So is an absence of Analytics – now using my statistically-based definition – a major problem in “converting data into information” as Scott claims? I would answer with a very firm “no”. If we take information as being that which is generated and consumed by a wide range of managers in an organisation, then if this is wrong then the problem is much earlier on and most likely centred on how the data warehousing and BI parts have been implemented (or indeed in a failure to manage the concomitant behavioural change). I covered what I believe are often the reasons that BI projects fail to live up to their promise in my response to a Gartner report. This earlier article may be viewed here. […]

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