Want to make BI pervasive? It's the culture, stupid

Corporate climate can get in the way of widespread use of business intelligence software

Business intelligence software may have been around for several decades, but it remains an esoteric niche in most companies, according to one analyst.

Unfriendly corporate cultures, not the BI tools or applications themselves, are preventing BI from becoming pervasive.

"The technology has been around for a long time. It's the people that often get in the way," said Dan Vessett, an analyst at IDC.

IDC recently conducted a study of 1,100 organizations in 11 countries measuring how pervasive BI is within companies, what factors helped make it more pervasive, and what "triggers" data warehousing architects and IT managers can use to the further the spread of BI in their companies.

In a speech Tuesday at Computerworld's Business Intelligence Perspectives conference in Chicago, Vessett said IDC measured BI's pervasiveness based on six factors:

  • Degree of internal use. According to IDC, that figure was 48% to 50%.
  • Degree of external use, or how much the company shared data with vendors or customers. Sharing BI data keeps customers loyal, Vesset said. And canny BI users in industries such as retail can sell that data to generate nontrivial revenue, he added.
  • Percentage of power users in a company. The mean was 20% in surveyed companies.
  • Number of domains, or subject areas, inside the data warehouse. Over five years, the average at surveyed companies grew from 11 to 28.
  • Data update frequency. While real-time updates can be indicative of heavy dependence upon BI, "right-time data updates" is more important. "Daily, weekly or monthly could be sufficient," Vesset said.
  • Analytical orientation, or how much the BI crunching helped large groups or the entire organization make decisions, as opposed to isolated individuals. "The fact is that most individuals and companies are not data-driven. They still rely more on experience rather than analytics," Vesset said.

According to Vesset, these factors in descending order had the most impact on BI pervasiveness:

  • The Degree of training, not in the BI tools -- "the vendors do a pretty good job" -- but in the meaning of the data, what the key performance indicators mean, etc.
  • Design quality, or the extent to which IT-deployed performance dashboards are able to satisfy user needs. Satisfied users will talk up the BI software, creating "BI envy" in other employees and thus helping spread the software's use. Dissatisfied users will go around IT and use Excel or some software-as-a-service applications.
  • Prominence of the data governance group.
  • Involvement of nonexecutive employees.
  • Prominence of a performance management methodology.

Vesset also listed a number of potential "triggers" for BI projects that IT should take advantage of:

  • Arrival of new executives, who, if not satisfied with the type of reports or analyses delivered, may help sponsor a new project.
  • A need to comply with new legislation.
  • The introduction of performance management methodology.
  • Corporate reorganizations, including mergers and acquisitions.
  • Changes in the organization's growth, such as when a fast-growing company slows down and then begins focusing on improving its profit margins.
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