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Common pitfalls that derail BI initiatives

Business intelligence tools can provide a valuable gauge for enterprise productivity, but many BI initiatives are stymied by common roadblocks.

Enterprises are keen on using data to make better-informed decisions. At the same time, software providers have...

been at work on compelling advances in business intelligence (BI) software. As more line-of-business employees clamor to manipulate the data on their own, demand for easy and effective tools is more pressing than ever.

But company culture and other internal hurdles can undermine data driven decision making before BI projects even get off the ground. Some of these hurdles may involve technology; some don't. Despite employees' eagerness to have access to easy-to-digest self-service analytics, the road to BI can be paved with some blockers.

Here's a short list of common problems that arise when enterprises look to launch BI initiatives.

Lack of leadership buy-in. From a leadership standpoint, most managers agree that you cannot manage what you can't measure. Having the ability to capture and collect data and have access to insights for finance, sales, productivity, and profitability is key. However, not all agree on how the information should be delivered and visualized, and some executives are content with using Excel spreadsheets to review numbers, whereas others simply leave it up to each department to pick their own tools for monitoring progress.

Lack of technical expertise and resources to support BI adoption efforts is a common problem.

Cost. In terms of BI solutions available today, some IT executives are finding it hard to allocate necessary funding for the up-front software purchase. Some BI software is hosted and offered as a subscription, but the majority of mature technologies have traditionally been client/server-based licenses.

Return on investment. Making the business case for investing in BI initiatives is likely to be more difficult if there isn't a clear demonstration of ROI. While the value of quick access to data and analytics for decision making is clear, it can be difficult to specifically define the ROI when looking to justify the purchase costs.

End-user adoption. Despite the challenges BI vendors face, leadership at many organizations value business intelligence enough to purchase and deploy the products. Unfortunately, BI adoption among end users is often a challenge. This is due to lack of education about analytics, or fears that the tools are too complex and require technical expertise. To be fair, in some cases these are justified concerns.

Technology complexity. Lack of technical expertise and resources to support BI adoption efforts is a common problem. This issue can be traced back to concerns about cost. Not all organizations can justify having data experts or business analysts on staff, but those planning BI initiatives should be realistic about operational needs, especially if the tools are complex or have a steep learning curve.

The next generation?

These are known issues for BI software providers and they are working to help users overcome them. In recent years, we have started to see a new wave of tools that are addressing the challenges highlighted above.

The market is flooded with analytics platforms. Platforms such as MicroStrategy, Tableau, SAP Lumira, SAS and Qlik have been top players in enterprise BI for several years. They have attracted different organizations to use their tools by being data agnostic and supporting a variety of delivery methods, including mobile devices.

Cloud-based tools, such as Domo and Microsoft Power BI, seem to take a completely different approach from the rest of the pack.

Power BI is highly integrated with other Microsoft Office and collaboration products through Office 365, with the goal of making the BI process more seamless and easier to manage, both from an analysis and distribution standpoint. In my next piece, I'll outline Power BI features that could become distinguishing characteristics in this competitive space.

Demonstrating ROI

For those planning to launch (or relaunch) BI initiatives, my advice is start by identifying the potential for business intelligence to add value for your organization. Make it a collaborative effort by enlisting other company stakeholders -- trying to find out what information they'd find useful. Once you know your needs, focus on finding a tool that can accomplish those tasks. And when the time comes for the launch, provide the training and supports that demonstrate the real value of that technology.

Each business case is different, but if you start with a baseline organizational understanding of why the tools are important and what they'll do, you'll have a much better chance of reaching those goals. And with the right BI tools, you'll be in a good position to measure that process and visualize it for others.

Next Steps

Power BI removes barriers to data insights

Power BI makes business intelligence collaborative

Trends like self-service BI won't replace IT

This was last published in January 2016

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What challenges have you encountered when launching business intelligence initiatives?
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BI is a tool. A very good tool, but a tool nonetheless. And all the usual complaints pile up against adoption. It's too expensive, it's too hard to use, I don't understand the results, I can't, I won't. Presumably someone stopped Edison to ask how he got all that light into such a tiny globe....

Most departments have discretionary budgets for tools exactly like this, so I'll assume we're the problem, not the tool. We're not selling it well enough. That is, after all, one of our key jobs. No matter the title, no matter the role, we all have to sell. Want BI...? Sell the idea to your boss or forget it.
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