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BI Briefs:
How to Satisfy Business Users Every Time (Business User Myths), Part 3

online columnist Rick Sherman     Column published in DMReview.com
March 25, 2004
  By Rick Sherman

Forming a good working relationship between the IT department and the business users is important, but can be harder than it looks. In this series of articles we explore some of the myths that plague us when it comes to satisfying business users. (For a refresher, see Myths 1 and 2 and 3 through 5 ) In this article we discuss three more myths:

  • Myth 6: Standardizing on a BI tool will solve the problem.
  • Myth 7: Our data warehouse has all the data a business user could ever want.
  • Myth 8: We need real-time analytics.

Myth 6: Standardizing on a BI tool will solve the problem.

Most companies have purchased and deployed multiple BI tools during various projects over the last decade. Each BI project selected a BI tool that, at that time, was perceived to be the best for its business users. As companies examine the effectiveness and use of their business intelligence efforts and review IT costs, they are finding too many different BI tools spread out through their organization. Many companies juggle more than six BI tools being (without even counting Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access). It appears to be a no-brainer for the IT group to initiate a BI tool consolidation project to reduce IT support and vendor software maintenance costs. In addition, if there is an initiative to expand the use of BI tools, consolidation can result in better licensing terms from a single software vendor.

Two considerations: first, perform a total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis and examine the hidden costs of replacing existing applications, retraining and migration. Second, keep in mind that this is a project that saves IT costs but does not directly benefit business users - especially those that may lose their familiar BI tools during the consolidation.

If it ain't broken, don't fix it! If business users do not perceive a significant benefit to them, other than reducing costs, they are not going to embrace the consolidation. In addition, change management always adds more costs and time to projects than planned. Even if the business users say they are not satisfied with their existing BI tools, they still won't be happy about having to learn a new BI tool (even if it is better). Chances are, they are already working long hours and won't appreciate having to learn a new BI tool on top of their existing workloads.

It makes sense to standardize on a suite of BI tools both for IT and the business users. Realize that you will need multiple types of tools (although one vendor may be able to provide them) in your BI portfolio, so plan accordingly. In addition, you should incorporate Microsoft Excel in your BI tool portfolio. Excel is a strong candidate because 1) every business person uses it, 2) it has the functionality for the business users to be much more self-sufficient than with other BI tools, and 3) every business person has it, so you can decrease the overall investment needed to deploy BI across your corporation.

Myth 7: Our data warehouse has all the data a business user could ever want.

Nothing frustrates a data warehouse manager more than building a many-terabyte DW yet finding that business users are still not entirely happy. Either the business users are clamoring for new BI initiatives because they say they do not have the information they need for decision making or the number of "active" DW users has been stalled for quite some time. These DW managers feel they have all the data that the business users could use, and the business is not realizing what they have. My initial response is, "How do you know what they want?" Have you examined where the business users are getting their data and what they do to it to transform it into information? Are they pulling your data but then using Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel to get the information they truly need? When you examine these questions you can then determine if you indeed have the data they need and, if not, what is the gap between demand (what they want) and supply (what you have)?

Even if you have all the data the business needs, you still need publicity and packaging. You need publicity because the business will only access the data if they know it is available. Not only do you need to say what you have but also have to explain it. The business needs to understand what the data represents, such as where it was obtained and how it was transformed. Next, you need to package the data into information that can be consumed by the business. Having all the data is great, but if the business still has to transform the data through multiple steps of using extracts, Access and Excel, then they are going to be frustrated with your BI environment.

Myth 8: We need real-time analytics.

There are many case studies illustrating the great business impact of real-time analytics. But do most business intelligence applications need it? What information does the business need to analyze real time? And is that capability valuable enough for the business pay for it?

Before investing in real-time analytics consider the following:

First, most people analyzing their business are reviewing trends over a period of time or doing period-over-period comparisons (such as this quarter versus last year's comparable quarter). In such cases, having data updated daily is sufficient and, in fact, preferable because the "frozen snapshot" eliminates "noise" in the analysis as the data is changing every time you look at it.

Second, is anyone going to actually do anything with that real-time information? Can they make a business decision and act on it in real time? If they can, then information is a candidate for real-time access. If not, then providing real-time access may satisfy someone's curiosity, but it does not generate any business benefit.

Finally, what is the quality of the data? Providing real-time access to poor quality data might not provide much tangible business value. It might be better to invest in improving the quality of data first before you go through the cost of real-time access.

If you have a favorite myth, legend or conventional wisdom that you do not think is valid send them along for discussion to bi-myths@athena-solutions.com.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI) and Real-Time Enterprise.

Rick Sherman has more than 18 years of business intelligence and data warehousing experience, having worked on more than 50 implementations as an independent consultant and as a director/practice leader at a big five firm. He founded Athena IT Solutions, a Boston-based business intelligence consulting firm and is a published author and industry speaker. He can be reached at rsherman@athena-solutions.com or (617) 835-0546.

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