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June 19, 2008: TDWI FlashPoint - BI Buy-in: Overcoming Human Nature

How to overcome resistance to BI from subject matter experts.

Welcome to TDWI FlashPoint. In this issue, Bill Collins offers tips for overcoming resistance to BI.


FlashPoint Snapshot

FlashPoint Snapshots highlight key findings from TDWI's wide variety of research.


Text Mining and Text Analytics Compared and Contrasted

Text mining helps you discover the evolving list of entities that are mentioned in a text source, whereas textanalytics extracts information about a constant list of entities. (View larger image.)

Source: BI Search and Text Analytics: New Additions to the BI Technology Stack (TDWI Best Practices Report, Q2, 2007). Click here to access the report.

Based on 370 Internet-based respondents. Rounding and multiple-choice questions are responsible for percent totals that do not equal exactly 100 percent.


BI Buy-in: Overcoming Human Nature

Bill Collins, DecisionPath Consulting

Most of us who work in business intelligence (BI) believe passionately that BI can help organizations leverage information to make better decisions. We know what BI can do and derive great satisfaction from implementing new BI solutions. Nothing excites me more than helping clients new to BI - "BI rookies" - build their first BI application. It's exciting because I know how useful such applications can be.

Yet we true believers must not let our enthusiasm make us forget human nature. Just because an organization is a BI rookie doesn't mean that it's a blank slate when it comes to providing information for its business functions. Its applications systems include some reporting functionality. It almost certainly has people who extract data (even by reading it from hard-copy reports), put it into spreadsheets, manually integrate data from multiple sources using spreadsheets and databases, and generate reports and charts to organize or visually represent that data. We ignore these "subject matter experts (SMEs) of the status quo" at our peril.

We know that the BI solution we implement will improve upon the status quo in many ways. True, it will automate extraction, integration, and data cleansing, provide a "single version of the truth," reduce latency, and eliminate tedious semi-manual work, but that's not how things look to SMEs of the status quo.

SMEs of the status quo see BI as a threat to their value to the organization. They may know every oddity of the application systems, understand the data well enough to notice anomalies, possess the database and spreadsheet skills to manually integrate the data, and execute the (status quo) reporting process, no matter how time-consuming, inefficient, or inadequate it may be. The new BI solution, however, might make them obsolete and cost them their jobs.

No matter what benefits our new BI solution will bring, human nature affects our undertaking.People want to be respected and valued for their contributions. Human nature favors the familiar and comfortable; it fears the new and unknown. Human nature resists or attacks perceived risks to one's stature and security.

What to Do

How can we overcome human nature and its potential to undermine or derail our projects? Here are some ideas to consider:

Involve SMEs early and often

By definition, the SMEs of the status quo are experts about the legacy reporting process. They know what works well and what doesn't, what requested information is difficult or impossible to provide, and how better information (lower latency, greater integration, higher quality, stronger visual presentations) could enable more informed decision making. We might need to encourage them to think outside the current paradigm, but they are a valuable source of input, and we should include them early in our conversations about project objectives and requirements. We also should ask them to review prototypes, participate in user acceptance testing, and train less-skilled users. Involving them in our projects increases the likelihood they will accept them and gives us the benefit of their legacy knowledge and expertise.

Identify and leverage early adopters

SMEs tend to be opinion leaders. Each SME of the status quo who embraces the new BI solution can be a strong voice for adopting the solution, but some will resist. Executive(s) must support the project and use the BI solution. Nothing stimulates use of a new BI solution more than awareness that the boss is using the new dashboard, rather than the legacy spreadsheet, in making decisions.

Often, the SMEs of the status quo are the very people we want to become power users and SMEs of the BI solution. In that group will be people dissatisfied with the legacy process and open to new ways of doing things. Typically, SMEs are self-selected: they became subject matter experts because they wanted to do things right and to do things better. They built the legacy information-gathering and reporting mechanism because it was the best they could do at the time given available resources and tools.

Some SMEs will self-select to embrace, or at least try, the new BI solution. Our job is to identify them, support them, and make their experience as positive as possible. We should help them to see that the new BI solution is another chance for them to be respected and valued for their expertise and their contributions. We should push the organization to recognize and reward them. In short, we must tie the success of the BI initiative to their personal success.

Leverage executive adoption

SMEs tend to be opinion leaders. Each SME of the status quo who embraces the new BI solution can be a strong voice for adopting the solution, but some will resist. Executive(s) must support the project and use the BI solution. Nothing stimulates use of a new BI solution more than awareness that the boss is using the new dashboard, rather than the legacy spreadsheet, in making decisions.

Be patient

People who build IT applications tend to be logical. We often expect instantaneous, total adoption of the new BI solution simply because it's so much better, in so many ways, than the time-consuming, labor-intensive, error-prone, cobbled-together, semi-manual legacy-information gathering and reporting process it replaces. We think rational people will switch in a heartbeat, but people aren't always totally rational, and change takes time.

Widespread adoption of the first BI solution even in a small BI rookie organization can take six months to a year. In large organizations with a change-resistant culture, it can take several years, and a small percentage of an organization's workers might never adopt it. The duration of the adoption process reflects human nature and the culture of the organization more than it does the usefulness or value of the BI solution.

What Not to Do

Almost as important as how to win over the SMEs of the status quo is what not to do.

One of our responsibilities as managers of BI projects is to communicate the benefits of the project and to do that well. That is not to say, however, that those who resist our project are doing so because they don't understand the benefits. It is a mistake to think "they just don't get it" and therefore repeat ourselves in a louder voice. Human nature usually is the cause of the resistance, not lack of understanding. Treating the SMEs of the status quo as idiots who don't "get it" is not the way to win them over.

BI is a proven way to improve decision making through better information. Architectural techniques that work are well known, and a rich set of powerful software tools is available. Our objective is not to build elegant software systems; it is to empower people with information, and to empower people, we must always remember human nature.

Bill Collins is director of corporate development and a principal consultant with DecisionPath Consulting. Contact Bill at 301.990.1661.


FlashPoint Rx

FlashPoint Rx prescribes a "Mistake to Avoid" for business intelligence and data warehousing professionals from TDWI's Ten Mistakes to Avoid series.

Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Center of Excellence

Mistake 2. Failing To Define a Clear COE Charter

There are many options for the role of the COE and for determining who within the organization actually builds BI applications. Some very effective COE organizations simply set and document best practices and provide guidance to distributed application teams across the organization. Others provide the described guidance, but are also responsible for ensuring that distributed application teams comply with the documented policies and conduct project reviews and spot audits to ensure compliance is happening. In a third variation, the COE documents best practices, owns some of the development work themselves (possibly for a defined set of data subjects), and provides services to those business units that wish to hire them to do the work on data subjects outside their direct ownership. Finally, the COE can do all BI development work across the organization. Each possible organizational construct is valid and can yield an effective COE. However, given the possible variations, a clear charter and mission for the group is imperative. The charter should explicitly describe what the COE will (and will not) do. If COE services are not mandated, terms and conditions for acquiring these services should be spelled out, including charge-back terms and allocated overhead costs.

If the COE does not have clearly defined and communicated areas of focus, the organization can end up with one of two equally negative possibilities:

  • Turf wars—with the COE, business units, and other IT groups fighting about who owns data, definitions, standards, quality, funding, and development responsibility.
  • Underlaps—where critical processes are unintentionally (or worse, intentionally) left out of all parties’ scope of focus.

This excerpt was pulled from the Q4 2006, TDWI Ten Mistakes to Avoid series, Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Center of Excellence, by Jonathan G. Geiger, Claudia Imhoff, and Lisa Loftis.


About the Authors

A thought leader, visionary, and practitioner, Claudia Imhoff, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on analytics, business intelligence, and the architectures to support these initiatives. Dr. Imhoff has coauthored five books on these subjects and writes articles (totaling more than 150 to date) for technical and business magazines.

She is also the founder of the Boulder BI Brain Trust (#BBBT), a consortium of 250 independent analysts and consultants with an interest in BI, analytics, and the infrastructures supporting them. The BBT was retired after 16 years in 2022.

Jonathan Geiger, CBIP, is an experienced consultant with management and hands-on experience in business intelligence, data governance, quality management, CRM, and related areas in many industries, having gained his initial experience as a program manager at an electric utility company and subsequently as a consultant. He presents frequently at national and international conferences, has written over sixty articles, and coauthored three books.

Get to Know Jonathan Geiger

Lisa Loftis is a thought leader on the SAS CI team, where she focuses on customer intelligence, customer experience management, and digital marketing. She is coauthor of the book Building the Customer-Centric Enterprise. She can be reached via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn.


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