Business Intelligence isn't working

by Michael Dean, National Computing Centre

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15 Jun 2011

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Is business intelligence working

WOULD you increase your investment in enterprise software if the technology was falling short of your objectives? Sounds crazy doesn’t it - but that’s the case with business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing software, according to the National Computing Centre’s latest survey  of IT decision-makers.

Nearly two thirds -6 1% - of those surveyed are planning to increase their use of this software; yet when it comes to evaluating how well the business objectives for data warehousing and BI have been achieved, the majority of respondents (53%) see the overall performance as no more than average.

Only 6% feel all their objectives have been met "very well" and 13% "well". At the other end of the scale 16% see the results as "poor" and 6% as "very poor". Of course some of the 61% planning to increase their expenditure are also part of the 6% who have benefited from objectives met, but that doesn’t account for everybody.

So why are businesses so keen to jump into using Business Intelligence and data warehousing? In theory a BI solution will provide a business with a single dashboard of all its key metrics, often in real time, to inform management decision making. Better-informed decisions can be made quicker, potentially enabling the organisation to exploit opportunities, reduce costs and identify correlations that have a cause and effect between processes and so on. On paper, at least, it’s an essential tool in these difficult times.

However, investment return should outweigh the cost of the software. Every day your organisation creates more data, never mind process and sales data. Web traffic and email data grow like the proverbial beanstalk. This data needs storing for access later and for legal compliance. And if that data were carefully interrogated, you might gain new customer insight or identify new trends that you could service with new products, line extensions or process changes. Link your data warehouse with your BI and you have a powerful set of tools that give you the best management information.

All good in theory, but it practice the technology is falling way short of expectations. Small consolation perhaps, but BI is not the only technology area where benefits are not being realised. This phenomenon can be seen in other enterprise application areas too. Remember your company’s investment in Customer Relationship Management software? You bought into the promise of using this tool to change the way your organisation operated, to put the customer at the heart of all your business processes. For the lucky few who did the right things, they are living in customer-focused nirvana. But for the majority of organisations, Customer Relationship Management was a misnomer. What they really wanted was a customer contact management system, typically for sales and marketing. Yet they bought into all-singing and dancing (expensive) CRM systems and ended up using them for plain old contact management.

There’s a common thread running through these IT failures – and one main reason is that software is only part of the solution. To benefit from software tools you also need vision and leadership, cultural change and a good understanding of the capabilities of your current infrastructure to host, or interface with the new software. You’ll also need to have a hundred and one other skills such as project management, good communications and an appetite for considered investment.

The major problem identified in the NCC’s BI survey is that information is scattered across multiple systems, making it difficult to find and access and this has a knock-on effect that information is not always available quickly enough. In addition, the information is often inconsistent, leading to multiple versions of the truth and the need to keep separate records, so that there can be accurate analysis of the information!

Other complaints are that information is often incomplete or inaccurate and that information is often out-of-date. There are also issues that the tools required to evaluate the data effectively are only available to specialists or that they are too complex to use... In other words if you bolt a BI dashboard onto a garbage can, you should expect to see garbage metrics.

According to Steve Fox, director of the National Computing Centre: “While the research showed that there had been improvements in data quality, it is evident that organisations still need to improve their data management so that critical business information can be accessed more effectively.”

It looks like these respondents rushed into acquiring the dashboard before fully understanding whether their existing systems were able to produce the data they were looking for in the first place. Now they are likely employing consultants to retrospectively get their data management house in order. For purchases bought in haste, there’s a lot of time to repent at leisure.

Our CRM customers in nirvana did the right things. They knew that they weren’t buying software that would alone change the business. They knew they needed a strategy, leadership to establish a vision and carry it through, they knew how to get their staff to buy into a new way of thinking and working, they had persistence, they had measurement and they had a very good understanding of what was needed to make the new software run in their environment. Don’t let others fool you into thinking that a new application alone will change your business. It might do, but for all the wrong reasons.

Michael Dean is Head of Marketing on National Computing Centre

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