I recently had a fabulous conversation with David Norris from Bloor. We discussed the meaning of ‘real’ business intelligence, and the fact that so many organisations are still failing to achieve it. David presented his thoughts on this in his own recent article, which is the source of my quotes below.

Whilst chatting with David, it became clear to me that we shared the same outlook and experiences on this topic. Real business intelligence is measured in terms of the value that a business obtains from the information products it builds on its data. The objective must always be business value and positive business change, not merely creating dashboards, reports and data visualisations. Those things on their own only represent potential value at best, and harmful distractions at worst.

“Effective BI and analytics is about business change, and understanding that is the key to success”.

Naturally, we discussed the reasons why so many businesses fall into the trap of focusing their BI attention on technology rather than business change. It’s a really interesting question, and one that we’ll enjoy continuing to dissect. But for now perhaps the simplest explanation is that for many, BI is still perceived as a technology challenge. That’s probably because the biggest voices in the BI industry are the technology vendors, and whilst they do mention the need to deploy and embed the technology effectively, the core concern of the technology vendors is of course, to vend technology. Their business models are built around licensing and integration, simple as that.

Big name BI vendors are perceived to be safe hands. Despite the reputation that some have of costing a lot and delivering little, pretty much any business will feel comfort at the mention of a very large, well-known BI industry stalwart when making decisions about how to complete their BI objectives. And let’s be honest, it’s a brave CIO who tells the board that a relatively small, niche consultancy will be developing their BI strategy and roadmap. But the fact remains that it doesn’t matter how sophisticated or effective your tools are, if you don’t know what to do with them then they’re not going to do much for you. BI success isn’t defined by BI technology, its defined by what you do with it.

“For the majority of the market place, analytics and BI is seen as a technology in search of a solution rather than a business change project”.

The right path to BI excellence, is the one where you start by fully understanding the role of information in achieving your business’s goals, and only then assess the need to change BI tools. Often it is best to first evolve core BI capabilities around your current BI toolset, so that you can get the most value both now and after any future BI technology investment. The most interesting thing about why this path still eludes so many businesses, is the fact that not only is it the path that assures the best chance of success, but it is also the one that’s most cost-effective! When organisations focus on BI technology first, they create for themselves significant early costs and all of the time and work which accompanies that, around things like business cases and procurement. By the time the organisation has made its BI technology decisions, the business has either moved on or has formed very high ROI expectations that will be extremely challenging to meet. No wonder BI projects still hang on to their infamous ’80% failure rate’ reputation.

It’s always great to connect with people like David, whose extensive BI experience mean that they too know the definition of real BI. My challenge with Saltare continues to be connecting with more businesses who haven’t yet grasped that definition, and enlightening them on the difference between the right and the wrong paths to BI excellence.

So I’m interested to hear from you. How does your business approach its BI projects? Have you found the right path, or are you still investing too much in BI technology for too little value in return?

About the Author

Phil Husbands

Phil Husbands

I show organisations of all shapes and sizes how real business intelligence isn't just about technology. As the Data and Analytics Director at Acrotrend, I help businesses to turn their data into truly valuable reports and information, by aligning BI and data technology with their goals, people and processes.

Leave a Comment