Pervasive BI Still Elusive, Survey Reveals

For two decades, BI boosters have pulled out all the proverbial stops to drive adoption. Less than half of potential BI users, on average, are being served, however.

Now as ever, pervasive business intelligence (BI) remains an elusive goal.

For the last two decades, BI vendors, industry thought-leaders, and BI administrators have pulled out all the proverbial stops to drive adoption.

According to the latest edition of "The Successful BI Survey," published annually by BI Scorecard.com, these efforts haven't been successful for the majority of companies. In 2012, BI adoption was basically the same as it was in 2011 -- which was virtually identical to adoption rates in 2010, 2009 ... all the way back to 2007.

Last year, BI adoption was at about 24 percent of all employees. That's basically unchanged from 2005, reports BI tools expert Cindi Howson, a principal with BIScorecard, who has been closely tracking BI adoption trends for years.

Howson was curious: perhaps survey respondents didn't have adequate visibility into BI usage rates in their organizations. Perhaps they were being unduly pessimistic -- or, failing that, overly optimistic -- in their assessments. Therefore, BI Scorecard tweaked its survey questions to try to identify instances of confusion or uncertainty.

"Initially, I suspected that many survey respondents did not know their actual BI adoption or think of it as a percentage of total employees," writes Howson, the report's author. "As a data validation, then, this [time] we also asked about total number of BI users and total number of employees. The calculated average and reported adoption rates were largely consistent."

There is a "but," however: "[S]urvey respondents who identified themselves as BI administrators report a lower average BI adoption, at 18 percent."

In other words, the class of respondents that's best positioned to know reports lower overall BI adoption rate.

"Pervasive BI" doesn't mean a BI tool on every information consumer's desktop.

In an average organization, survey respondents estimate that just over half -- 54 percent -- of employees could potentially use or consume BI. This projection is based on unrealistic assumptions -- including unlimited budget and technical resources -- but Howson says that BI usage among extremely successful adopters can exceed even this figure.

"I believe the potential to be much higher, and case studies from companies who use BI for competitive advantage reflect significantly higher adoption rates," she writes.

For example, respondents who describe their BI deployments as "Very Successful" have rolled out BI to more than one-third (35 percent) of their employees. There's a "but" here, too: among respondents who describe their BI projects as "Mostly a Failure," adoption was just slightly below the industry average (23 percent as against 24 percent). Howson attributes this to two respondents from companies that have achieved nominally "pervasive" deployments but that nonetheless regard their BI implementations as failures.

IT and the Line of Business Still Not Seeing Eye to Eye

Another long-time problem is IT/business alignment.

This year's "The Successful BI Survey" finds a slight improvement in this regard. More than half (53 percent) of respondents say that business and IT work as partners in their organizations. On the other hand, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of respondents describe a more combative relationship (i.e., "Us vs. Them").

The issue itself is inescapably subjective -- e.g., a user from a business background might have a very different perspective on relations than might an IT respondent -- so BI Scorecard breaks down how users in particular roles (or with particular responsibilities) tended to respond to this question. Surprisingly, the group most likely to describe combative relations was the combined IT/line-of-business representative: more than one-third (36 percent) of these respondents characterized relations between business and IT as "Us vs. Them."

Business users were next on the list, with 30 percent opting for "Us. vs. Them." Intriguingly, corporate IT professionals as a group were least likely to subscribe to "Us vs. Them." They were also most likely to describe "Partner" relations with the line of business.

Howson concedes things have improved, slightly, but argues that there's still a fundamental disconnect. "IT must initiate repairing this relationship and more proactively engage in business dialog[ue]. At a minimum, BI leaders must actively listen in on business strategy meetings to look for opportunities to align BI to the goals of the business," she writes, adding: "use of agile development techniques can facilitate collaboration."

Here, too, there's an intriguing "but." Even though combined IT/line-of-business respondents are most likely to describe "Us vs. Them" relations between the IT and business camps, Howson says these hybrids are crucial for BI success.

"Companies that describe their deployments as having significant business impact rank the importance of having a hybrid BI program manager higher than in deployments with only slight-to-moderate impact," she points out.

The 2012 edition of "The Successful BI Survey" runs 42 pages and deals with BI best practices; suggestions for improving BI programs; BI innovations; BI tools assessments, including a vendor-by-vendor breakdown of BI success and BI Impact rates; and considerably more. More information is available at BIscorecard.com.