Monday, February 25, 2008

Aspirations of intelligence (BI)

So very few of the organizations I've dealt with over the past 10 years have gotten a Business Intelligence initiative off the ground. Yet, the whole idea has so much merit and so much promise that I wonder what the barriers truly are. Here are some of my ideas:

Complexity: Most systems use intuitive and familiar means for interacting with the data, and the sales pitches rightly emphasize their ease-of-use. But the demo doesn't even begin to describe the hard work and complexity that precedes the data being available to that nice friendly interface. Discussions about summarization levels, refresh intervals, data-drilling, and data cubes confuse the business community, which then stalls the implementation.

Elusive ROI: The systems themselves are getting cheaper, but the time and energy required to get them in use hasn't decreased at all. That means that the projects are still very expensive. The "quick wins" every consultant encourages their client to pursue cost a lot, and they're not usually very quick. That's because there is still a great deal of BI infrastructure required for even modest use. So, as they look at a screen no better or informative than the spreadsheet they built 5 years ago, management wonders (usually out loud), "Is this what we spent all that money on?" It's not that the ROI isn't there to be had, it just usually takes longer than 6 months to get there, and that can often be longer than an executive's effective attention span.

Both of these are tough to overcome. A real leader coming in with experience using BI can make the difference, though. They have enough history with the tool to believe in its promises and to help the organization stick with the project through the valleys.

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