RESEARCH & RESOURCES

What Makes -- or Breaks -- BI Success?

Now challenges to BI success abound -- while older challenges stubbornly endure.

It used to be that if you asked any random group of business intelligence (BI) administrators to list the biggest challenges to BI success, data quality issues would come out on top. This isn't necessarily the case anymore.

Consider this year's edition of BIScorecard's Successful BI Survey, which lists data quality -- or the challenges associated with data cleansing and standardization -- as the third biggest challenge, overall. In past editions, the survey had consistently found for data quality: respondents overwhelmingly cited data quality -- more than any other technical factor -- as the foremost challenge to BI success. This year, both hard-to-use BI tools (No. 2) and the challenges involved in combining and analyzing data from different sources (No. 1) outpaced data quality. Call it the end of an era, says BI tools expert Cindi Howson, a principal with BIScorecard. Call it, Howson continues, the beginning of Something Else.

"We suspect this reflects a growing requirement for business users to mash together data not only from the corporate data warehouse, but also from departmental data marts, external feeds, spreadsheets, and the like," writes Howson.

"At the current pace of business, users can no longer wait for IT to bring all data into a central repository," she continues, noting that even though nearly half (44 percent) of respondents describe this capability as "essential," almost one-in-three (29 percent) of organizations lack the ability to do so. The information mash-up situation is improving, Howson concedes: BI suite vendors are adding richer, more self-serviceable data access features to their tools, while some players (including a raft of new upstarts) tout data federation, in the form of a virtual abstraction layer, as a means to facilitate easier (or quicker) access to data from a diversity of sources.

Access is only part of the problem. Another big issue, as this year's edition of the Successful BI Survey demonstrates, is that BI tools either (a) aren't easy enough to use -- an issue cited by nearly a quarter (24 percent) of survey respondents -- or (b) aren't able to help users answer complex business questions (cited by 23 percent).

"While many BI tools have matured to the point that they can provide access to information, exploration and analysis capabilities continue to differ," Howson explains.

Another problem, she points out, is that IT organizations aren't always keeping pace with the rate of BI innovation and change. The Successful BI Survey, for example, quotes an anecdote from a respondent who indicates that the status quo of just one year ago is no longer acceptable to his company's users.

"BI teams should recognize the evolution of BI user requirements in managing their BI tool portfolios and capabilities," Howson counsels. "The way tools were initially deployed may not meet the requirements of today. Industry and vendor innovations should be monitored and added to the BI tool portfolio as requirements change."

BI programs continue to founder on other, largely avoidable issues, too.

Consider the importance of common business definitions and master data, issues that organizations have been grappling with for a decade or more now.

A lack of consistent business definitions is still a problem, according to the BIScorecard report: "35 percent of respondents say they don't have common business definitions and calculations, and 52 percent say they don't have good master data or a single view of the customer or products," Howson writes, noting that both are important for data quality and data consistency. "In building business meta data layers," she continues, "definitions and calculations should be included in the business layer and accessible to all information consumers." The problem, Howson concludes, is that even now, BI products don't always include "this capability out of the box, forcing cutomers to customize or to rely on third-party solutions."

The 42-page report covers 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. You can find out more about it at BIScorecard.com.

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