Organisations need to be more diligent when buying self-service business intelligence technologies, paying close attention to their own broader business picture. Lyndsay Wise (pictured), a business intelligence (BI) industry analyst, addressed delegates at the recent IRM UK Enterprise Data and Business Intelligence conference in London. She said a lack of business-IT cohesion, coupled with suppliers' seductive marketing and a failure to realise that a fine generic technology might, nevertheless, not be right for a particular organisation, are all combining to frustrate BI projects.
Wise says that she often sees a lack of due diligence regarding BI technologies: "Often, user organisations will put in stuff that has worked elsewhere, that they’ve heard about from their peers. And they will take that on trust even though it is not the right fit for their own organisations.
“Certain vendors are also very good at marketing, but their technology might not be the best for the organisation, if it is not looking at the broader picture. What about integration, storage, licensing, and other contractual agreements – these often get overlooked in the rush to get something working quickly.”
She advises organisations take a close look at how the business currently works: "What are the gaps, the inefficiencies? What are the people issues?
“The technology can be there and work well, but BI projects can fall apart due to a lack of cohesion, with IT and business having different angles and just not being willing to work together, and keeping faith with how they already do things.”
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Match the application to users' expertise
It is even possible, she says, that a departmental head will say an implemented BI technology has been rolled out when it has not.
She confirms that the so-called “data discovery” or data visualisation tools are popular, but lots of users don’t have that level of expertise: "Self-service has to be multi-tier: simple enough to use for everyone, but it needs to be audience-specific too.” She says the role of IT can be to deploy tools from, for example, Microstrategy or Tableau on the broader level, but develop applications for specific populations of business users.
On the related but distinct topic of agility in a BI context, Wise argues there is a need to integrate agile frameworks that include a culture of continuous process improvement and agile software development. It is important to integrate the two, because requirements are constantly changing.
Close the gap between business and IT
But, she says the words “agility” in the IT project sense, and “flexibility” in the business sense, belong to two different languages. “Even for organisations that work together well, there is always a gap between business and IT," she says. "I wonder if it will ever be closed. With smaller companies it works better, there tends to be more integration.”
Could the "total quality management" language of Japanese firms such as Toyota – well-known among MBAs and IT professionals alike – be a lingua franca for IT and business people? She says it would be interesting to develop a common language, recalling a formative personal period at Toyota Canada: “We had kaizen drilled into us, in an IT unit: constant improvement, constantly going back to the drawing board, everything always being iterative. Some organisations are more amenable to that than others, though.”
Is she seeing a relentless erosion of competitive advantage as all organisations get better at business intelligence? “We are starting to see some of that. But most companies are struggling with how to get to the point of their customer analytics being a competitive differentiator. They are still struggling to get a holistic view of data, over the whole customer lifecycle. They know where they need to go, but how to get there is the difficult part.”