5 BI Potholes to Bypass

These experienced users already steered their way clear. Now they map out how you can, too.

Business intelligence might be a maturing technology, but its far from hassle-free. Tedious technology issues, including the need for comprehensive data cleansing and integrating incompatible computer systems, are still a big part of nearly all BI projects.

But its the planning, return on investment and people issues that users continue to count among their biggest BI problem areas. Here, five IT executives map out their strategies for navigating around user resistance and resentment, creating quick ROI wins and managing overenthusiastic vendors.

1. Setting User Expectations Too High.

One of the earliest and easiest-to-hit potholes on the road to BI success is what Danny Siegel describes as the radical variance between BI software applications that are functionally rich and very pretty, and the reality of what can be accomplished with the data a company has to work with.

People dig themselves a hole by demonstrating next-gen capabilities to a user community that doesnt even have the data to get into standard reporting, says Siegel, director of data warehousing and business intelligence at New York-based Pfizer Inc.

Danny Siegel

Danny Siegel Part of the problem lies in how vendors make their case to IT executives during the software selection process. Those presentations tend to be highly structured with as much visual appeal as possible, because theyre trying to sell business users, Siegel says.

But the reality is that the true requirements are not around whats visually appealing. Theyre around getting complex reports turned into something thats navigable, he adds. Its block-and-tackle reporting thats needed.

Allowing a vendor to show end users a BI system thats replete with color charts, graphs and tables is a near guarantee of user dissatisfaction with the system that ultimately gets implemented. One way around that pothole, Siegel says, is to insist that vendors work with actual company data during all software demos.

I give the vendor live data with all of its vagaries, inaccuracies and dirt, he says. Sure, we want a system to be visually appealing, but we also want it to be meaningful. Piloting with your vendors is important because youre showing your users what can [actually] be achieved.

2. Putting the Right Tools in the Wrong Hands.

Front-line managers, rather than executives, are most often responsible for worker productivity and daily sales. BI tools can help boost both. But too often, companies first give BI tools to executives, who then push down policy changes, observes Robert Fort, CIO at Virgin Entertainment Group Inc. in Los Angeles.

Virgin, which operates 13 mega­stores at prime locations such as Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square, first started its BI project in its stores. You cant manage what you dont measure, Fort says, which is why the company provides its store managers with the most accurate and up-to-date sales information available. Store managers access the BI system, known as Crescendo, via a Web-based portal.

Robert Fort

Robert Fort Traffic and sales information is pulled in every 15 minutes, Fort says. His group has developed software-based report templates so store managers can point and click their way through Crescendo to learn things like a stores browser-to-buyer conversion rate, its average hourly sales rate and how those rates compare to other stores rates or even their own year-ago figures.

We went back 18 weeks later and measured sales lift, Fort says, adding that 20% of the stores overall sales increase during that period was directly attributable to the BI system.

We definitely have changed the culture in stores, Fort says. Theyre held more accountable, and they operate more in real time. They can see trends in the middle of the day and correct them.

The bottom line, he says, is this: If you put tools in the hands of people who clearly want to be making a difference and make them user-friendly, theyll run with it.

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