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Getting users to buy into a business intelligence strategy

Marketing savvy is but one skill CIOs need to sell a business intelligence strategy to the business.

A common complaint from attendees at last week's Gartner Business Intelligence Summit in Las Vegas was about business users' lack of interest in their companies' business intelligence (BI) strategy and tools.

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Jeffrey Mark Harvey, CIO of Holzer Clinic in Gallipolis, Ohio, is developing a BI strategy to organize data across the company, including clinical data, which now is kept separate. Over time, he said, he would also like to introduce such new technology as in-memory analytics, to compress data into memory and in turn boost performance.

Those are a few of Harvey's BI strategy goals, but right now he is on a marketing campaign to evangelize the use of BI across the company, something with which many attendees at the show were struggling.

"I'm banging the drum from department to department so that I can see what their needs are and explain how our [BI] solutions can help them," Harvey said.

He is on the right track, according to James Richardson, a Gartner Inc. analyst who helps clients develop BI strategies: The CIO and the IT department need to take on a marketing role if they hope to get users interested in using their organization's BI software.

One approach is to develop a BI newsletter. That was the tactic used by the CIO of a tea manufacturer in the U.K., according to Richardson. She put some IT staff members into a room with some business users. Then she separated the IT and business employees and asked them to create a BI newsletter that showed what the company would accomplish by 2011 using business intelligence.

"IT was confused and out of their comfort zone," Richardson said. "They eventually got it, but [the CIO] was clever in that she forced IT to realize that they needed to step up how they communicate with the organization."

A marketing campaign alone is not going to get users on board. Developing a BI strategy is an ongoing process that involves establishing a BI competency center (BICC) or strategy office in which the IT department and the business together define BI metrics and govern how the technology is used across the company.

CIOs also need to demonstrate the value of BI, use a phased approach when they introduce the BI strategy and possibly even introduce new tools that are more visually appealing to users, Richardson said.

BI doesn't mean much, if anything, to business users. "You can't just walk up to the vice president of marketing and ask, 'What BI do you need?' Instead, focus on the decisions that vice president is trying to make," Richardson said. If the goal is reducing customer churn, for example, show the vice president how the BI strategy and BI software can help analyze and identify in advance the customers that are likely to churn. "It's really understanding the decisions that are important to the business and then marrying the decisions to the data," he said.

Three steps to phasing in a BI strategy

First, IT departments should dig into their software development roots and apply the same approach to BI adoption. When companies develop their own software, they gather requirements from users, conduct tests with user groups and create prototypes before they introduce the application to the general population.

I'm banging the drum from department to department so that I can see what their needs are and explain how our [BI] solutions can help them.
Jeffrey Mark Harvey
CIOHolzer Clinic
"IT used to work hand in hand with their internal customers [business users] to apply technology to problems," Richardson said. "Now IT spends a lot of time buying ERP applications and customizing them in the back room."

Second, the IT department should find business users already doing what Richardson calls "shadow BI," in which they are using Excel spreadsheets, or working with metadata or extract, transform and load (ETL) processes. "They are doing business intelligence whether they know it or not already, so convince them that the technology you have is going to make their life easier," he said. Many business analysts spend 80% of their time manipulating data in Excel spreadsheets, a task that could be automated, for example.

Third, IT should identify groups or functions that are close to the core of what the business does. The higher the visibility of the group using BI, the better the chance of other groups adopting it.

Adding new BI tools to the mix

It is tempting for a CIO to block a new BI technology, but if such software as Qliktech Inc.'s QlikView or Tableau Software Inc.'s Tableau is creeping into business units, it should tell you that users are bypassing the standard BI platform.

"These tools are visually driven, and we're individual Web consumers now who are used to tools that are aesthetically pleasing and perform quickly," Richardson said. "Let [employees] use these tools, but feed the information [to these tools] from the standard BI platform."

And if the IT department is the one introducing new technology -- even if this "new technology" is a BI platform that has been in place for years -- it is up to the CIO to convince users that it will perform better than the current technology they are using.

If users can't be convinced, let them continue to use the front end of their choice. It is fairly simple to tack on the one they are most used to -- Excel, for example -- as the front end of the company's standard BI platform, experts said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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