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Here is an excerpt from a TDWI article - "The Year in BI and Data Warehousing" - that was published in December 2013.

"One of the things that ailed BI in 1993 and 2003 is the same thing that ails BI today: i.e., anemic adoption. This is in spite of the fact that today's BI tools incorporate a staggering array of "self-service" features, along with (often genuinely helpful) data visualization capabilities.

BI vendors in 2013 talked about use cases and feature bundles that couldn't have been anticipated a decade ago, but has any of this actually made BI better, more usable, or more pervasive? Are companies having more "success" with BI -- and does this "success" actually correlate with "value?

According to Cindi Howson (Principal at BIScorecard), BI adoption has hovered at or around 25 percent for the better part of a decade. In the 2013 installment of BI Scorecard's "Successful BI Survey," sizeable percentages of respondents reported that BI tools still aren't easy enough to use (an issue cited by 24 percent of survey respondents) or aren't able to answer complex questions (23 percent)."

 

It is indeed a little shocking to note that the adoption of BI over the last decade or more has been abysmally low at around 25 percent. 'Self-service BI' as a concept was first talked about as early as the first half of the decade of 1990s. Over the last decade and half, considerable progress has happened on the BI technology front with social media now serving as a catalyst for the pace of development such as in Open Source, Cloud BI, Social BI, Data Mining, Textual mining, Sentiment Analysis, NoSQL, Hadoop, etc.

The thinking also has shifted from simple descriptive analytics, which basically dealt with the analysis of business performance in the past, to predictive & prescriptive analytics that serves to predict the course of the business and also prescribe solution alternatives to optimize outcomes.

Although these are all developments we can feel proud about, the anemic adoption rate of BI seems to be depriving us of all this pride. As I was wondering as to what could possibly be the causes of this situation we are in, the following pointers came to my mind based on my experience in the field of BI Consulting.

 

1. Absence of alignment of BI with business

It pays to remember that BI initiatives are all business-aligned IT initiatives and therefore should be driven by the business head, namely the CEO. The ownership and accountability for the BI initiative should rest with the CEO and not the CIO. Also it goes without saying that all the business stakeholders should be involved in all discussions pertaining to this BI initiative right from the beginning. In the absence of the alignment with all business stakeholders, the BI initiative can never see the light of the day.

 

2. Fear of questioning accountability of decision makers

Since the BI system is basically a decision support system, the analysis that this system yields is bound to question the actions and decisions of the decision makers in the organization. Hence there is a fear of being exposed in case of a wrong action/decision or inaction. Even in the absence of BI, the fear of being exposed will be there but the only difference is that the presence of BI system would expose them sooner than later.

 

3. Fear of replacing the analyst workforce

This fear arises out of the possibility of a BI system to replace the analyst workforce. Actually this fear is misplaced since the BI system only paves the way for the analyst workforce to be deployed in more productive tasks than spending long hours on analyzing raw data manually to produce actionable information.

 

4. Existence of information silos even after building a BI system

There is still this tendency among the various business functions to maintain their own information silos; whereas the real objective of a BI system is to provide a single source of truth.

 

5. Continued co-existence of Excel Spreadmarts for analysis despite the availability of BI tool(s)

I have seen from my experience that a lot of business users have a tendency to download reports from the BI system onto excel for doing further analysis of the reports, thereby creating excel spreadmarts. Although the BI tools these days have very sophisticated features for analytics, the inertia to move away from excel spreadmarts and adopt the BI system is still very high.

 

6. Usability issues with BI tools

It is true that BI tools often require some training before users can become comfortable using them. On the contrary, Excel is an age-old tool that is familiar to all and sundry. This is also a reason for the inertia to adopt the BI system. But once the users get exposed to the powerful capabilities of these BI tools and get a sense of the speed at which analysis and decisions can be made, the adoption of BI would increase considerably. For this to happen, the business users must be treated as partners in building the BI system and the plan for acclimatizing them to the features of BI tools through training should be made sufficiently in advance.

 

7. Illusion of long gestation period for ROI

Any investment in BI system is going to be expensive. So there is bound to be doubts on the return on the investment and fear of long gestation period before business starts realizing the true benefits of the system. Here it is the duty of the BI evangelists to educate all decision makers in the organization about the power of a BI system and create awareness of the fact that the ROI will be bigger and faster only with faster adoption of BI system as a single source of truth. This is where it pays to create rapid prototypes to accelerate the awareness about the BI system and then follow it up with development of BI system using the most touted Agile approach - one business process at a time.

 

The above stated issues are, in my opinion, very common in most organizations. This list here is not exhaustive though.

To address these issues, the push for BI adoption has to necessarily come from the top (i.e., the CEO) and then percolate downwards in the organization to all levels of decision making. It needs to be kept in mind that the CIO and his team of technology enthusiasts are only partners in implementation but the decision to adopt a BI system and infuse it into the culture of the organization lies in the hands of the CEO.

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Tags: BI, DW

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Comment by Harish Gopalan on April 18, 2014 at 3:41am

Good Article Kesavan, I have experienced something similar in my BI engagements.

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