RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Don't Make BI Users Fear for Their Jobs

Explaining how BI will likely positively impact users' routines and their place in the organization will do much to lessen their resistance to your efforts.

When IT begins bringing departmental data under its management, users may be found thinking, "Once this data is in IT's warehouse, I'll be out of a job!" It's natural -- people hate and fear change and feel threatened by it.

The more the users' routine is affected, the more nervous they may become as increasing evidence points to the inevitable automation of acquisition, organization, storage, and publication of the data.

Your BI team can stay ahead of the game by making your intentions clear. Tell the users you are not trying to eliminate their jobs. Explain how BI will likely positively impact their routine and their place in the organization.

Making the purpose and benefits clear from the start will reduce resistance to your enterprise data management efforts and turn potential resistance into assistance.

Anticipate the Fears

Joanne, an expert in equipment effectiveness, decided to build her own departmental data warehouse using proprietary software her department had originally acquired for another reason. Joanne's warehouse became integral to running reports, but she ended up spending more time managing data than optimizing equipment effectiveness.

She had overestimated her data skills. Nevertheless, her reporting system was effective enough that the department decided to capture and analyze data at a component level for some machines.

That introduced another problem: the additional data entry using the proprietary software would mean buying dozens more expensive licenses.

When the decision was made to replace that software and to bring the departmental data under enterprise data management, Joanne became afraid that her usefulness to the company would dissolve. She couldn't have been more wrong; she just didn't know where the BI initiative was headed. She was only told that a good deal of money would be saved in licensing fees by replacing the warehouse she had labored over so loyally.

She expressed her concern privately to another employee: "Maybe in addition to saving money on licenses, they plan to save money on employees, too. They'll have to create a new position for me because I will have nothing to do!"

Joanne began to be too busy to share critical information on a reliable basis with the enterprise data management team. When she did make time, she wasn't as pleasant and helpful as she was before the scope of IT's involvement became clear to her.

The Earlier the Better

If Joanne had not revealed her nervousness to anyone, her company might have lost a highly valued employee. Fortunately, not long after the BI team began groundwork for replacing Joanne's warehouse, her coworker asked the agile specialist on the enterprise data management team if the plan was to replace Joanne and other heavy users who had taken responsibility for data management.

The specialist explained that the BI team was expert at data management and delivery but had very few ideas about how to use data to improve overall equipment effectiveness. He said Joanne's knowledge of what the data meant was about to become more valuable than ever.

"The data is valuable only if it is valuable to Joanne," he said. "Please tell her she will continue being a valued contributor to improving overall equipment effectiveness because the person assigning meaning to data is the one who makes the data valuable."

The BI team's -- and executive management's -- intention should have been stated at the very beginning, but it came soon enough to prevent a false rumor from running wild. Not only did Joanne keep her job, she became an advocate for enterprise data management.

Freed from day-to-day management of the data, she is able to focus on resource allocation decisions to maximize overall effectiveness, and she loves to tell the story of how she was empowered to make it happen.

Another Heavy User Overreaches

Joe, a user in another industry, had a thorough grasp of his company's "homegrown" financial management system. For years he had been able to satisfy reporting requests with a traditional BI tool that modeled the data at its source.

He was so trusted in his department that he was even asked to build interactive dashboards with drill-through capability. That challenge proved his limitations: his model was too sluggish.

When Joe asked IT for help, they promised a solution. They would bring the data required for the dashboards under their management system, and organize it to enable rapid retrieval by the dashboards.

That was more than Joe had in mind. Believing his knowledge of how to report from the old financial system would soon be obsolete, he became nervous about job security and started spreading stories of data warehousing debacles among his coworkers.

Perhaps worse, he even convinced himself there must be an easier, softer, and better way to preserve the value of his knowledge.

What Joe Didn't Realize

A member of the dashboard development team overheard one of Joe's conversations with a coworker and interrupted to make a clear declaration of IT's intentions. She explained -- to Joe's satisfaction -- not only how her team would solve his dashboard issues, but also that his expertise was at least as vital as ever to IT and his department.

First of all, Joe's mastery of the company's finances would help justify the investment in the BI effort. Second, his knowledge of how people were already using corporate financial data would be an indispensable guide as IT built the dashboards. Joe knew the internal architecture of the financial system and could assist with each modification of the homegrown system.

Joe flat out made IT's work easy.

Clarify the Users' Value in Data-Driven Decisions

You can turn potential resistance into assistance by making everyone clear on the purpose and outcomes of your BI work. If IT exists in your organization to empower and to serve people -- not to replace them -- make that known.

The very people who fear they will become obsolete can become your biggest advocates. Like all of us, they need to know what's going on.

Max T. Russell helps business and IT address communication problems and improve their in-house marketing. You can contact the author at maxt@maxtrussell.com.

Roger Cogswell's interest in organizing information for rapid storage and recognition goes back to his childhood desire to pass exams. As a Centric manager and BI consultant, he works with clients to build high-performing information delivery teams. You can contact him at roger.cogswell@alum.mit.edu.

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