Between 70% to 80% of corporate business intelligence projects fail, according to research by analyst firm Gartner.
A combination of poor communication between IT and the business, the failure to ask the right questions or to think about the real needs of the business, means most business intelligence (BI) projects fail to deliver, the firm says.
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IT departments make the mistake of looking at BI as an engineering problem that requires a specific package solution.
But the first step should be to find out what the business really needs, said Patrick Meehan, president and research director in Gartner's CIO Research group
"If you don't ask the right questions, BI is not a crystal ball that pops out the answer. People in IT need to stop approaching BI as a vendor or engineering solution, or as a tool. They need to understand what business they are in. They are in the information and communication business."
Part of the problem is that CEOs and CIOs approach BI from different directions, said Meehan.
"They have not sat down and created a common lingua franca for BI. How can you meet expectations when you have one side speaking Latin and the other speaking Greek?" he said.
Many of the questions businesses need to answer in a successful BI project are psychological and sociological, not technical questions, said Meehan.
They need to think about how people are going to use business intelligence and how they want to present information.
They need to look at whether people need historical information, or information in real time and whether people will use business intelligence to collaborate.
Meehan advised IT departments to rely on the expertise of the rest of the business to define what they really need from a BI project. That might mean, for example, bringing in people from marketing, sales people, sourcing people and using people with expertise in social networks.
"There is probably information out there about your company that you are not even aware of. You have to think more like anthropologists, invite the right people to the table. Then the exercise becomes more like information gathering."
It is important for IT departments not to think of BI as one-time solution, says Gartner. The field is developing so quickly, that a good solution now may no longer be a good solution in two years time, said Meehan.
"BI has been in the top 10 issues for CIOs for the past ten years. It is a moving target and it changes every year as tools become more mature. BI as a competency has become an expectation for knowledge workers as well as executive managers. In other words the finishing line keeps moving forward," he said.
He advises IT departments to look for staff with leadership skills, who can work well with the rest of the business.
"Most people in IT are managers. That is a skill that can be taught - delivering to time, cost and budget. But sometimes it's better to take twice as long and spend twice the money because we get 50 times the value. That's not management thinking. That is leadership thinking."
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