Maureen Clarry stresses the need for change skills in business intelligence on BeyeNetwork

The article


Maureen Clarry begins her latest BeyeNETWORK article, Leading Change in Business Intelligence, by stating:

If there was a standard list of core competencies for leaders of business intelligence (BI) initiatives, the ability to manage complex change should be near the top of the list.

I strongly concur with Maureen’s observation and indeed the confluence of BI and change management is a major theme of this blog; as well as the title of one of my articles on the subject. Maureen clearly makes the case that “business intelligence is central to supporting […] organizational changes” and then spends some time on Prosci’s ADKAR model for leading change; bringing this deftly back into the BI sphere. Her closing thoughts are that such a framework can help a lot in driving the success of a BI project.
My reflections

I find it immensely encouraging that an increasing number of BI professionals and consultants are acknowledging the major role that change plays in our industry and in the success of our projects. In fact it is hard to find some one who has run a truly successful BI project without paying a lot of attention to how better information will drive different behaviour – if it fails to do this, then “why bother?” as Maureen succinctly puts it.

Without describing it as anything so grand as a framework, I have put together a trilogy of articles on the subject of driving cultural transformation via BI. These are as follows:

Marketing Change
Education and cultural transformation
Sustaining Cultural Change

However the good news about many BI professionals and consultants embracing change management as a necessary discipline does not seem to have filtered through to all quarters of the IT world. Many people in senior roles still seem to see BI as just another technology area. This observation is born out of the multitude of BI management roles that request an intimate knowledge of specific technology stacks. These tend to make only a passing reference to experience of the industry in question and only very infrequently mention the change management aspects of BI at all.

Of course there are counterexamples, but the main exceptions to this trend seem to be where BI is part of a more business focused area, maybe Strategic Change, or the Change Management Office. Here it would be surprising if change management skills were not stressed. When BI is part of IT it seems that the list of requirements tends to be very technology focussed.

In an earlier article, BI implementations are like icebergs I argued that, in BI projects, the technology – at least in the shape of front-end slice-and-dice tools – is not nearly as important as understanding the key business questions that need to be answered and the data available to answer them with. In “All that glisters is not gold” – some thoughts on dashboards, I made similar points about this aspect of BI technology.

I am not alone in holding these opinions, many of the BI consultants and experienced BI managers that I speak to feel the same way. Given this, why is there the disconnect that I refer to above? It is a reasonable assumption that when a company is looking to set up a new BI department within IT, it is the CIO who sets the tone. Does this lead us inescapably to the the conclusion that many CIOs just don’t get BI?

I hope that this is not the case, but I see increasing evidence that there may be a problem. I suppose the sliver lining to this cloud is that, while such attitudes exist, they will lead to opportunities for more enlightened outfits, such as the one fronted by Maureen Clarry. However it would be even better to see the ideas that Maureen espouses moving into the mainstream thinking of corporate IT.

Maureen Clarry is the Founder and President/CEO of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network, a consulting firm that specializes in helping IT people and organizations to achieve their strategic potential in business. CONNECT was recognized as the 2000 South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year and has been listed in the Top 25 Women-Owned Businesses and the Top 150 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado. Maureen also participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for The Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver and was recognized by the Denver Business Journal as one of Denver’s Top Women Business Leaders in 2004. She has been on the faculty of The Data Warehousing Institute since 1997, has spoken at numerous other seminars, and has published several articles and white papers. Maureen regularly consults and teaches on organizational and leadership issues related to information technology, business intelligence and business.

The confluence of BI and change management

y =x^3 + 2x^2 - x + 1

The tag-line of this blog brings together business intelligence and cultural transformation. While one driver for this is that I have led BI projects that had explicit goals of cultural transformation, I think that there is a deeper connection to be explored here.

In other articles (notably “Can You Really Manage What You Measure?” by Neil Raden and Actionable Information), I discuss my experience that BI only adds value if:

  1. The information it provides answers pertinent business questions, and
  2. The answers to these questions lead to people taking action.

This means that any successful BI implementation has to consider such messy and difficult things as changing how people behave. This is where the link with change management arises.

Now of course you can argue that change management is an indispensible discipline for any business project (my strong opinion is that any IT project is a type of business project) and this is clearly true. However the parameters within which a new transaction processing system has to operate are different. Here if a person does not use the system, then work does not get done. Either it is impossible to carry out your job without the system (maybe only the system generates the necessary documentation), or not using the system to record transactions is a breech in compliance (keeping paper copies in your drawer).

BI systems are not like this. People chose to use them because they judge that they either make their business life easier, or they help to improve their decision-making (hopefully both). If someone doesn’t want to use a BI system, then they won’t and can probably get on with other parts of their job. The reason that change management is even more important in BI projects is that the element of compliance (or even coercion) is absent. If you want people to use the system and behave differently as a result, then you need to think about how best to influence them in these directions.

I have written elsewhere about the importance of marketing, education and follow-up in these areas. It also is important to explicitly recognise that a BI practitioner needs to be fully engaged in change management if they are to be successful.

A final thought also worth considering is that, as the BI industry matures and focus turns more to making it work in a business context than the latest flashy dashboard technology, it is likely that one of the things that will differentiate the best users of BI is how well they manage the necessary and desirable change that it drives.

πυρὸς θάνατος ἀέρι γένεσις, καὶ ἀέρος θάνατος ὕδατι γένεσις


Sustaining Cultural Change

This article is the final one in a trilogy focussed on enacting change. The previous instalments were as follows:

  1. Marketing Change
  2. Education and cultural transformation.

The first two pieces covered generating enthusiasm for change in advance of enacting it and then the role that professional training has in repositioning behaviours. I left off with the first training event having been a success. I will pick up the story from this point and seek to answer the question: how do you sustain initial success over the medium term?

Before starting to discuss some approaches that worked for me in this area, I should remind readers of the context. This was delivering a new BI system in a European insurance organisation with the explicit aim of enacting a cultural transformation; in this case making top-quality management information part of the corporate DNA.


It is part of human nature to sometimes rest on your laurels. Having worked hard to make sure than something goes well, it is tempting to sit back and admire what you have done. Unfortunately gains are not always permanent and indeed may be quickly eroded. It is a useful to recall the adage that you are only as good as your last performance. As in a sporting contest, when you have made a good start, it is then the time to press home your advantage.

After our first successful training session, we had several other waves of training for our first report family – in fact we trained over 300 people in this first activity, 150 more than we had anticipated, such was the demand that we had generated and the positive feedback from people who had attended. But at this stage we had only won the first battle, the outcome of the war remained in the balance. We had made a good start, but it was important that the team realised that there was still a lot of work to be done. In this final article I want to talk about some of the ways in which we sustained our focus on the system and managed to embed its use in day-to-day activities.
Using new functionality to reinforce training

By the time the training team had come to the end of its first phase, the development team had produced its second report family. This was aimed at a slightly narrower group of people, so training was a less extensive task. Also we were showing new BI functionality to people who were already users, or at least had attended the training. The training for the second release was just a half day, but we asked people to book out a whole day. The extra time was spent in attending either a refresher course (for people who had not been confident enough to use the system much after initial training) or a master-class (for those who had taken to it like a duck to water). We also offered these two options to people who were not recipients of the second report family.

Inevitably there were initially some people who were not 100% converts to the new system at first; crucially less than half of users fell into this category. Over time both the enthusiasm of their peers and the fact that early adopters could present information that was not generally available at internal and external meetings began to exert pressure on even the most sceptical of people.
Travelling to the users

With later report families, which were again aimed at the mass market, we change our approach and travelled to give training in different countries. This helped to tailor our training to local needs and prevented anyone becoming isolated by language issues. Again when we travelled we would go for two days and have two half-day formal classes. The other half days were taken up with refresher courses, master classes or – something that started to become more and more requested – one-on-one sessions. These are in many ways ideal as the user can go at their own pace and focus can be on compiling and saving reports that are directly pertinent to them – classroom work has of its very nature to be more general.

Sadly we did not have unlimited funds to travel round Europe, so these one-on-one sessions morphed into using the telephone and network facilities with the trainer “taking over” the PC of the delegate to work together. This approach has also been very successful on our Help Desk.
The importance of the Help Desk

Speaking of the Help Desk – because the BU systems was very business-focussed people tended to raise business-focussed questions (as opposed to “when I click on this button, the system locks up”). This meant that the Help Desk needed to understand both the technology and the business and we used our business analysts and trainers to staff it – this is high-end resource to apply, but they were just as proud of the system as the extended team and wanted to help people to get the best of it.

So, we were relentless. We didn’t really ever lower the intensity we had established when launching the system; business adoption and retention both reflected this. Even once our cultural change had been mostly achieved and BI had become as much part of everyday life as the ‘phone or e-mail, the team continued to put just as much effort into new releases. The contributions of professional training and a business-focussed Help Desk functions were both indispensable in sustaining our success.

Thank you to Sharm Manwani

Sharm Manwani's Blog

Sharm is Associate Professor of IT at Henley Business School who I was lucky enough to hear speak at the recent Chase Zander Change Director Forum. He was kind enough to link to the article, Business is from Mars and IT is from Venus, that I wrote about this seminar on his blog at (the specific article may be viewed here).

I would recommend people browsing through Sharm’s articles which provide a sharp insight on technology’s contribution to business change.

Marketing Change

Neither fish nor fowl


Much of my career has been involved with change; either driving it, or reacting to it. The types of change have varied: sometimes internal, sometimes external; sometimes glaringly obvious, sometimes subtly emergent. Change teams are at the sharp end of change; they are the people charged with bringing it about. Ranged against them are the powerful forces of inertia and fear of the unknown. Given these obstacles and the intrinsic appeal of the status quo to the majority of humans, how best to make change successful? In attempting to offer a partial answer I am not going to discuss an overall methodology; instead I want to focus on what I believe is an important, and often overlooked tool – marketing.

Marketing may seem something of a foreign concept to change teams. Often their members have a background in running projects, some of them may have technical skills. Why is it pertinent to change?
What is marketing change?

First of all let me make a definition. Marketing can seem synonymous with advertising and sales. Though I am interested in these connotations, I would adopt a more holistic meaning of marketing: marketing is the set of activities related to acquiring and retaining customers. Therefore marketing touches on virtually all aspects of an organisation’s operations.

Some translation is required in applying this definition of marketing to change initiatives. The word customer is still pertinent, but in our context, it means the people who will be impacted by change, or – to put it another way – whose compliance is required to enact change. Compliance is an interesting term, it can have a negative connotation; people must comply, or suffer the consequences. Maybe a different way to look at this is to substitute “enthusiasm” for “compliance”. Let’s pause and ask ourselves some questions. First, is change likely to be more successful if we rely upon the compliance of people, or if we rely upon their enthusiasm? I would argue that the latter is likely to be a more profitable approach. Second, if enthusiasm is important, then how do we go about generating this? This is where the techniques of marketing come into play. Normal marketing is about acquiring and retaining customers for a product or service. Marketing change is about creating and sustaining enthusiasm; not about a product or service, but about change itself.
A lesson from Hollywood

In seeking to make change successful we can perhaps learn from an industry renowned for its marketing; Hollywood. If we consider the latest blockbuster, then the marketing approach is broad and multi-channelled. There is traditional advertising, such as roadside hoardings, or glossy pages in newspapers. Relatively newer approaches, such as banners appearing on pertinent web-sites also fall into this category, as would trailers being shown before other films. However Hollywood goes a long way beyond this. Stars of the film suddenly appear on chat shows or are interviewed in newspapers. A web-site for the film is launched where snippets can be viewed and new content is drip-fed over time. These sites can create a sense of anticipation, but also increasingly ownership, particularly if they allow interaction. Opinion-formers (aka film critics) are engaged early on, with previews in the hope that they will influence people to go to the film. Given the target audience of many blockbusters, there are often many tie-ins with related toys, video games and even themed meals at fast-food restaurants. Sometimes a new film can seem omnipresent; if people want to find out more about it there is no lack of ways in which they can do this.
Multi-channel marketing of change

Transferring these learnings to change management, the value of making project related figurines available at your local burger bar is probably limited, but many other things apply. In trying to generate enthusiasm, it is important to explain to people what is happening, why it is happening and the importance of change. Some of the same multi-channel approaches can be used to do this. This would include newsletters, e-mails, intranet sites and even posters strategically placed around the office. Of course people are bombarded by information and may filter things out. This means that it is important to leverage any hooks that you may have. For example, maybe make information about change available on a web-site that people already have to visit to carry out some other task. Don’t shove the information down their throats, but make links to further background available for the curious.

With web-sites, the drip-feed concept is important. It is better to have content that changes and expands over time than to seek to answer all questions from the beginning. If there are stages to your change plan, then using the web-site to document achievements is a good idea. For example if Phase I consists of making a change in Country A, then positive post-change interviews with staff from Country A will help to build confidence in other territories. As with any web-site, it will only be successful if people continue to return to it, so think of ways in which you can achieve this.

Newsletters and e-mails are sometimes only read by those who are already interested, so consider novel ways of getting your message across. Maybe a video of your CEO (or even the change team manager) talking about what is going on would catch people’s attention more. If the type of change that you are engaged in is such that the before and after can be described graphically, then consider taking this approach with people; a picture paints a thousand words after all. If there is a systems element, then videos of prototypes or even access to pilot versions can also help.
The human angle

While technology can be massively helpful in these areas, human interaction remains crucial. This is perhaps the analogue of a film’s stars being interviewed. Ask for a brief slot at regular business meetings to talk about your change project and field questions. Follow-up on these sessions with extra information tailored to the particular audience’s concerns.

The role of film critics can be mirrored in identifying early adopters. Whatever type of change you are engaged with, there are likely to be those who are more likely to embrace it. If you can identify these people and spend time in winning them to your cause, then they can act as your sales force with their colleagues. This dovetails with the idea of advertising early successes mentioned above. What you want to do is to build momentum and nothing breeds success like success.
Finally, this article is not intended to provide all the answers. There are going to be marketing techniques that are appropriate for some projects and not others. Marketing is perhaps not something that is currently seen as a necessary core competence of change teams, but I believe that it ought to be and hope that it will become so over time. I would recommend that anyone engaged in driving change consider what tips they can learn from marketing in other industries and what contribution it can make to the success of their projects.

Continue reading about this area in: Education and cultural transformation.

Business is from Mars and IT is from Venus

Home for Business People and IT Practitioners?

Chase Zander were kind enough to invite me to their recent Change Director Forum, which took place on 11th November 2008 in London. As per their web-site: –

The event focused on IT-Enabled Change and sparked an interesting debate from the floor into the issues facing change programmes and projects which often rely heavily on the introduction of new information technology.

Some related items began to spark ideas in my mind: –

First, one of the speakers, Dr. Sharm Manwani from Henley Business School, referred to a survey of senior IT managers which asked them about areas in which they felt a lack of skill might be reducing their effectiveness. The area that came out as most important was “interpersonal skills”. Many people also said that they lacked in-depth knowledge of their organisation’s business, but this was not seen as a major problem by respondents.

Second, during what proved to be a lively debate, many attendees made reference to “IT” and “the business” in the way that one might juxtapose Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. This is a common refrain whenever IT managers are gathered together. Often a key issue is whether IT or the business (again that juxtaposition) should own projects, or strategy development, or technology budgets.

Third, Dr Manwani, in what was an illuminating talk, presented a chart which featured “in between” roles such as “business solutions manager” or “programme manager” which are intended to form a bridge between IT and the business. He also questioned whether there might be better ways to bring business and IT together.

To my way of thinking, if you need to form a bridge between IT and the business, then you are already facing a major problem. Even in today’s web-enabled, always-connected world, it appears to be acceptable for IT and business to be viewed as something separate: Business is from Mars and IT is from Venus. It is OK for business leaders to express a lack of knowledge about IT and for IT leaders to express a lack of knowledge about business; in some organisations it may even be a badge of honour for both “sides”. The word “sides” appears in inverted commas intentionally; this world view is a major part of the problem in my opinion.

Maybe I was just lucky enough to spend the formative years of my career in an organisation where IT was the business, but I would argue for a reassessment of the spurious dividing line between IT and business. I believe that IT is a business discipline and that the best IT managers are business managers. They are people who have a particular skill-set that they can bring to business challenges; in this respect they are no different to sales managers, or finance managers or any other manager with a specific hinterland of expertise and experience.

In many ways, it seems that IT managers are happy with the perception that that are somehow different. They may even revel in the mystique of the “dark arts” that they and their department practise. Perhaps being seen as different helps self-esteem. Less positively, in disavowing their full business role, perhaps many IT managers are content to retreat into their speciality. It is maybe comforting to have the middle-men, such as business solutions managers to act as insulation and to take the blame when things go wrong. How often have we all heard IT managers cite poorly defined or shifting business requirements for systems’ failures? How often is the lack of a clearly defined business strategy offered as an excuse for the lack of a clearly defined IT strategy?

I believe that these types of complaints are indicative of a pernicious problem in IT management. It is human to look for others to blame when things go badly, but if IT managers do not properly understand business issues, if they do not become part of the overall business management team and if they allow themselves and their departments to become semi-detached, then they really only have themselves to blame.

So, rather than ending on a negative note, let me repeat my call for IT managers to start to view themselves more as business managers. In embracing the ever increasing tempo of modern business and better understanding the dynamics that drive this, IT managers can both be more effective in their roles and also enjoy themselves much more at the same time. Surely those outcomes merit what is probably not an enormous investment of time and energy.


Welcome to my new web site, which has a twofold purpose.

The first of these is to showcase my career successes and highlight my experience and expertise. This is done both by including traditional, CV-style information, but also via links to articles about my work and even videos of me speaking about this.

The second purpose is to provide a platform for me to share my ideas about aspects of business, technology and change.

I have spent the last 20 years involved in the business of change; be that a small software house growing rapidly to become a large one and floating on the London Stock Exchange in the process, or driving cultural change across the European and Latin American operations of a multinational insurance organisation through the application of award-winning business intelligence.

I am an IT professional, but, having grown up in a company where IT was the business, I regard myself primarily as a business person; albeit one who has specific expertise in technology.

If you have problems with viewing any part of this site, then please use the Problems and Browser Compatibility section to report these.