Blog | Nov 30, 2012

Business Intelligence Revival

Author: John Korcak

Business Intelligence Revival

Howard Dresner is credited with coining the term Business Intelligence (BI) in 1989. A simple definition I like is – “using your data to run your business better”. Or, if you prefer, a more complete definition is "People, process, and technology required to turn data into information and information into knowledge and plans that drive effective business activity, gain business insight and achieve competitive advantage."


In the late 90's and early 2000's, BI climbed to the top of every CIO’s priority list. But unlike many other technology issues (ERP, Mobility, etc.), it has stayed at or near the top of the list.  As I deliver BI projects for a living, I am comforted by this and from seeing the value of some truly successful BI projects I know there is enormous value potential in BI done correctly. 

So, is BI so valuable that it deserves to stay at the top of the priority list?  Perhaps, but I think the real explanation is that the large majority of BI projects historically have been unsuccessful (Gartner estimates between 70-80%).  Companies see the value but just haven't been able to realize it, hence BI stays on the 'to-do' list.

Other complex technology challenges have been solved - or at least enjoy higher degree of success, so why is BI so hard?

There are of course several reasons, but one of the main problems is that organizations don’t fully recognize how complex a problem BI can be. Most people understand the concept pretty readily and can see the value, and this leads them to under-estimating how hard these projects are to deliver.  It certainly doesn’t help that vendors have historically over-promised on how easy their tools make deploying BI, when in most cases the tools are the least important success factor. So companies historically under-plan BI projects. They assume internal resources will become experts after a week of training, they allocate too little time and too few dollars for installation and configuration and most often, they fail to understand that BI projects need a solid data foundation – a foundation that is designed for data retrieval not data entry.  Essentially there is a pervasive lack of understanding about what it takes to make these projects successful and how to plan them.

Another, common impediment is the need to include both IT resources and business resources.  When I describe BI to those new to the concept I like to say Business Intelligence is where technology and the business meet.  It is technology deployed for and designed to be used by business users.  It turns out that IT and business personnel don’t always speak the same language.  A lot of legacy BI projects were completely IT planned and developed. Some smart DBAs got together, figured out what they thought was important for the business and built a BI solution around that. More often than not, those IT driven BI projects, although well-intended, missed the mark, or when hitting an initial target, proved too inflexible to grow with the voracious appetite of the business for more data.  The best BI projects include both sides in the planning stages and the best BI consultants not only understand the technology, but also have enough business acumen to understand what business users want out of the data.

One advantage of BI projects historically having such a high degree of failure is that companies are starting to understand that BI isn’t as easy as it appears. We are seeing a renewed interest in BI projects and a new willingness to listen to strategic BI solutions rather than just quick win patches that don’t scale.

So, how should these projects be approached to ensure success? With proper planning and design of course.

Bringing in experts to help plan and execute these projects is the smart thing to do. Could (or would) you build your own house? 

Sure. Most people could, but do they? Or even more to the point should they?

BI consultants are like building contractors, they have built dozens of warehouses, reports, dashboards and complete BI solutions. Not every solution, like not every house, is the same, but the process, the architectural principles, and the experience is transferrable. Utilize these experts to help plan and build your BI solution. Just like a house, once it is built you won’t need them to hang around to help you live in it, but that upfront investment will pay dividends in the form of a reliable working solution. If you build it yourself you may end up with a leaky roof or a flooding basement, or worse…house


Part 2 – Steps to planning a Successful BI Solution.

Part 3 – Demystifying the Business Intelligence Data Warehouse.