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Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Driving BI Adoption and Managing Change

Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Driving BI Adoption and Managing Change

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Organizations struggle with many issues that inhibit their ability to achieve long-term business intelligence (BI) success. Although technology often plays a key role, it's the nontechnical elements--people, process, politics, and corporate culture--that pose the greatest threat and can sabotage even the best-intended BI efforts.

A successful BI program should not be judged solely on an organization's ability to develop and deploy a solution on time and within budget. Successful BI should be measured by the value and direct business impact it brings to the organization through its adoption and use by key stakeholders. After all, BI is about making information readily available to provide new insights, enable fact-based decisions, and improve actions.

Organizations must address the human side of BI to drive awareness, increase adoption, and create sustainable momentum that delivers the greatest long-term value from their BI capabilities.

Mistake One: Failing to Build the Need for BI within Your Organization

Too often, BI initiatives are pushed to the organization without a clear understanding of their value or purpose. These initiatives are usually well intended; however, they repeatedly fail to address real business drivers, and they don't create a sustainable impact on the organization. Many of these efforts are grown and driven within the organization's IT department, where the thinking is that data and technology will solve all of the business's challenges. Other initiatives surface as specific functional projects that lack the capability to serve the enterprise. In either case, groups rarely spend sufficient time analyzing and building the demand necessary for BI initiatives to succeed.

Build your case for BI by first assessing the effectiveness of current efforts. Paint a balanced perspective that starts by highlighting what's working. This approach will help maintain positive morale, protect the self-worth of those involved, build credibility, and reduce resistance.

Next, identify your organization's business information risks and challenges, such as data integrity, lack of standards/measurements, disparate systems, duplicate costs, and so on. Focus on the business issues that BI can help solve, such as reducing costs and increasing operational efficiency.

You can then begin to present this information to your organization. You may choose to use a consulting firm to perform an objective assessment or further validate the possibilities BI can bring to your business. Educating leaders about how your competitors are using BI or taking your leaders along to benchmark other organizations are also great techniques for building the case for BI. No matter what your final approach is, always focus on the business value rather than on the technology.

Mistake Two: Failing to Recognize and Address Resistance to Your BI Initiative

As fast as momentum can build from generating a real business need for your BI initiative, internal resistance can just as quickly bring that positive momentum to a grinding halt. How do you deal with the resistance that comes with leading a BI initiative? One approach is to ignore it. Another is to drive BI into your organization, running over anyone and anything that gets in your way. Although both approaches can be tempting, neither will help you truly address change management issues. As a change agent, you must recognize and leverage resistance to help plan for--and proactively manage--change.

To understand how to embrace resistance, recognize the beliefs and causes that contribute to it. Stakeholders resist change because they:

  • Believe the change isn't consistent with policies and procedures
  • Don't understand why they need to change
  • Feel the change is poorly planned and communicated
  • Believe management is not serious about change
  • Believe they are already drowning in change
  • Have experienced too many past failures
  • Need to protect their sense of self-worth
  • Think BI is a terrible idea

Leaders of BI initiatives may wrongly believe that good managers can eliminate resistance, that people who resist are disloyal, or that resistance has no real value. As a change agent, you must see through these myths and educate your leaders. You must also strive to avoid believing these myths yourself. Recognize your own resistance and adopt the changes you are imposing on your organization. Be patient with colleagues. Change and resistance happen at the individual level, and people move at their own pace.

Do not try to build the perfect solution. Instead, stay focused on incrementally building positive momentum. Finally, do not be misled by employees who say everything is fine.

Avoiding these traps will keep you from being surprised by resistance while enabling you to embrace resistance to drive change.

Mistake Three: Not Utilizing Champions and Sponsors to Evangelize BI

To prepare for the change management challenges, it's imperative that you form a coalition of leaders within your organization to serve as champions and agents for change.

How do you begin to build this coalition of BI advocates? Start by looking at the individuals who already serve in positions of power and can direct and influence others. Focus on key managers so that those who are left out cannot block your progress. Look for individuals who possess business expertise and ensure that various points of view are represented. Champions should bring credibility to the program, so they must have good reputations within the organization. Their presence will significantly enhance the effectiveness and organizational adoption of group recommendations and decisions. Finally, effective champions should be directly affected by the BI program and have "skin in the game."

Champions are essential to influencing change, but they usually don't have the authority required to drive and sustain change. That is the function of the BI sponsor. Sponsors typically play at least three major roles. First, sponsors must participate actively and visibly. Second, sponsors must build a support network with other senior leaders and managers. Finally, sponsors must communicate directly with employees about the business reasons and nature of the changes BI will bring, the risks of not changing, and why the change is happening now.

Mistake Four: Lack of a Vision and Strategy for Your BI Initiative

Many organizations still approach BI one project at a time with no clear vision. Lack of a good BI vision and strategy inhibits your ability to focus your investments and resources, and it makes driving change and BI adoption more difficult.

A good BI vision serves three important functions: it defines a future-state direction, it motivates people to take action, and it more efficiently coordinates the actions of different people. An effective BI vision depicts a "top-down" future-state view that is aligned with your organization's overall business strategy. After all, what's important to your company is important to BI. By supporting an existing strategy, you are also more likely to receive executive support--and funding.

Your BI strategy should answer three key questions. Where are we? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? The BI strategy must address the prioritized business capabilities, the enablers necessary to build and sustain your BI program, and the governance to manage program execution and provide oversight. As for enablers, every strategy should define the information architecture, technology, people, processes, and change management/communications required to achieve the vision. Many BI programs touch on the first four of these enablers. However, few initiatives include change management and communications in the up-front and ongoing planning process. Unfortunately, if you wait until the implementation phase of your first BI release, you've missed the opportunity to proactively deal with most of the change management issues that can derail your BI program.

Mistake Five: Not Incorporating a Communications Plan into Your BI Program

A communication strategy enables you to effectively communicate your BI vision. When creating your communication plan, it's important to address key messages early and reinforce them throughout the entire program. Remember, making a change is a personal choice, so communication must resonate with the individual. To be effective, you must connect with individual employees' beliefs and values by providing a compelling case for how business intelligence will positively affect them. Resist the urge to have communications come from the BI team or project leaders. Employees prefer to hear messages from senior business leaders, immediate supervisors, and peers. Prepare these communicators to deliver effectively by reviewing key messages, training communicators on delivery, ensuring alignment and consistency between senders, and preparing for questions.

Use appropriate channels and techniques to reach employees, such as group meetings, brown-bag lunches, newsletters, the company intranet, and testimonials. Identify what in your organization is working and acceptable within your corporate culture. When in doubt, leverage faceto- face communication methods wherever possible and create opportunities for two-way communications, allowing employees to share concerns, provide feedback, and ask questions in real time.

No matter how you choose to communicate, keep it simple by removing all jargon, acronyms, and technical terms. Repeat key messages often to ensure that the message you want to get across is heard and understood by employees. Use assessment tools and metrics to measure message saturation, diagnose problems, and apply corrective actions.

Finally, make certain you, your team, sponsors, and champions all lead by example. Nothing will destroy your communications efforts faster than actions that contradict your key messages.

Mistake Six: Overlooking the Development of Governance and BI Program Oversight

The primary purpose of BI governance is to ensure the program aligns with the organization's overall vision and business strategy. Business intelligence projects should be viewed as opportunities to improve the business and be prioritized to ensure optimum business benefit is obtained from the BI investment. BI governance also:

  • Facilitates collaboration between IT and business
  • Balances business requirements with IT's ability to deliver
  • Enables program-level budgeting and planning
  • Addresses issue management and risk mitigation
  • Ensures standards and processes adherence
  • Provides a cross-functional perspective
  • Focuses on delivering long-term, sustainable value
  • Enables consistent communication of progress and decisions
  • Ensures user commitment and adoption

An effective BI governance process requires people, policies, and procedures to be defined. BI governance groups must have the authority to make and enforce a myriad of decisions on a variety of topics. Their decision-making ability is enabled through the development of processes, tools, and service-level agreements that provide structure and focus on accountability.

BI governance must strike the right balance of process complexity, oversight, and control. A governance structure that is too constrictive will alienate business stakeholders from adopting and using your BI solution. The BI governance process should be simple so people can easily understand and follow the process. Keep the project request template straightforward, communicate the right tone, and ensure that everyone involved understands that governance processes are critical to the success of the BI program as a whole. Take away complexity and eliminate the excuses that will inhibit the adoption of a strong BI governance solution.

Mistake Seven: Failing to Organize for BI

Driving positive change through BI requires you to evaluate your organizational structure. Many organizations that successfully implement BI programs establish BI competency centers (BICC) to:

  • Help executives understand BI's value
  • Ensure BI deliverables are aligned with overall business strategy and objectives
  • Reduce analytical redundancy
  • Define and document BI best practices
  • Develop templates and tools to facilitate requirements gathering, development, testing, and other processes
  • Build and facilitate the BI training program
  • Facilitate communication across the business and IT organizations
  • Govern data and BI technology tool standards

The role of the BICC varies by organization from "oversight only" to "full-service BI delivery." For the BICC to successfully enable change, it must have a clearly defined purpose and appropriate authority. It is imperative that a strong formal governance program be established prior to defining the role and granting the necessary authority to the BICC.

The BICC is a competency-based model and individual roles may span multiple competencies during its early stages. For this reason, roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined and communicated to all stakeholders. The final structure and operating model should be designed with consideration for the organization's culture, political environment, and current IT/business relationship. It should evolve as demand requires, budget allows, and organizational change permits.

Mistake Eight: Not Establishing a Formal Training Program

Training users about your BI solution is one of the most important elements for change. For this reason, you should formalize your BI training program by including it as a component of your BI strategy and providing oversight through your BI governance board.

When developing a formal BI training program, begin by categorizing the users of your solution. Categorizing users helps you better understand requirement differences for information use and consumption, BI delivery tools, and training. Most organizations have at least three to five different BI user profile groups.

Once you identify your users, create a formal curriculum for each of the identified user profiles in your organization. While the governance board needs to make training a prerequisite to user provisioning, the BICC should own the training content and provide oversight for its delivery. Initial training should focus on the proper use of data and business metrics leveraging the BI tool's functions.

Consider a "train-the-trainer" approach and leverage business champions to serve as trainers throughout your organization. Utilizing business champions enables:

  • Better cost and time management (having the core BICC team deliver onsite training in geographically dispersed organizations could be too costly)
  • A stronger focus on the proper business use of data, reports, and analytics
  • Addressing business issues and questions in real time
  • Better advocacy of the BI solution and more effective change management

Mistake Nine: Underestimating the Importance of Delivering Short-Term Business Value

Providing short-term wins through incremental BI delivery has many benefits for building and sustaining the momentum to drive change. Short-term wins reward stakeholders for their hard work by providing positive feedback that builds morale. They also undermine critics and resisters, since clear improvements in performance make it difficult for people to block positive change. Most important, they keep sponsors on board by providing evidence to leadership that your BI program provides tangible, short-term business value.

What constitutes a short-term win? First, business results must be visible to large numbers of people within the organization. The deliverables must be explicit and clear-cut so that no one can challenge the outcomes. Finally, wins need to be clearly identified with the BI program and not be attributable to anything else. Initial wins should be achieved in fewer than six months, with ongoing wins every 30–90 days.

The success of your first BI project will be critical in setting the stage for the long-term, sustainable growth of your larger BI program. This makes the decision process as to which BI project to take on first all the more important. The main objective of your initial planning process should focus on identifying the "killer BI app" by targeting projects with:

  • High visibility across the organization
  • Strong strategic alignment and business impact
  • Strong sponsorship
  • High-quality data sources
  • Significant opportunity to integrate future data
  • High probability to deliver
  • Minimal impact to legacy reporting solutions
  • Low to moderate levels of training
  • High stakeholder readiness assessment scores

Mistake Ten: Ignoring the Need to Sell Successes and Market Your BI Program

Gaining and maintaining momentum for your BI program can be a daunting task for many reasons, including corporate culture, changes in leadership, and demands for budget dollars. You must continue to deliver value, market your solution, sell your successes, and recognize those who helped achieve them. Keeping positive momentum will enable demand for more change, encourage adoption, and increase ongoing investment in the BI program.

How do you sell your BI success? Use testimonials whenever possible from executives, influential stakeholders, and business champions. Bring your satisfied customers to meetings with executives and prospective stakeholders to speak and address questions. Be sure to balance success stories between tangible benefits (e.g., direct business value, cost savings, and new capabilities) and intangible benefits (e.g., better quality of information and more timely decision making).

Recognizing your stakeholders' and BI staff's contributions is another great secret to market the success of your BI program. Creating formal recognition programs reinforces the desired new behaviors of BI, demonstrates leadership's continued support, enhances people's self-worth, and creates a culture that fosters innovation. Celebrating individual project completion and other key milestones also rewards and motivates your BICC staff.

Consider branding your BI program to:

  • Provide a single identity when communicating
  • Simplify marketing a complex product
  • Differentiate your product from others
  • Reinforce the data and analytic integrity of your BI program
  • Create a "rippling" adoption effect

Avoiding these 10 mistakes is hard work, but the effort is worth it. Focusing on the human side of BI will significantly increase the likelihood of adoption success, helping you deliver long-term, sustainable business value to your organization.

About the Author

Tony Lopykinski is the managing principal of Maven Advisors, LLC ( Tony has more than 17 years of experience in analytics, business intelligence, and data warehousing. As the global BI director for one of the world's largest retailers, he led both the development and execution of the company's enterprise BI strategy. Tony leverages his experience to deliver practical solutions to companies new to BI, as well as those struggling to take their BI capabilities to the next level. Contact him at

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