Opinion: Can BI help Cameron to run the country?

By Simon Ryan
18 Jan 2013 View Comments

Mr Cameron has a new tool to help him run the country. Dave has a dashboard. The Prime Minister has collaborated with the government’s internal IT team to create an application that keeps track of live data relating to areas such as jobs, the economy and housing. The news is that he was excited about accessing a range of valuable information with a few swipes on his tablet and was planning to give his IT team feedback. If successful, the plan is to roll out the dashboard across government.

So far so good – a user initially delighted with a business intelligence (BI) application. But judging by our recent research into the eternal mismatch between IT and business users, in terms of expectations and delivery of BI projects, the long-term success of “Dave’s Dashboard” is still in the balance.

Further reading

Fifty per cent of the 750 IT professionals we asked across multiple industries reported that business users can’t fully articulate what they want from their BI projects, until after the project is completed. They shared their frustration that the almost predictable response to any reporting and analysis solution is for business users to ask for more or different information. In my 20-plus years of working in this sector, the challenge of consistently giving users what they want is nothing new – but why does it still happen?

Organisations often look for a BI solution when Excel, ERP or other reporting solutions run out of steam or flexibility to answer a specific business question – or there is a need to access real-time information such as that found on Twitter and Facebook that Cameron is now looking at. So IT invests in a BI tool based on the brief given by the business, and uses it to produce the relevant, timely insight users want into a particular area of the business. And everyone is happy – until, armed with this new understanding, business users start asking more difficult questions as they realise that having additional or external information could help them to do things even better.

Let’s take a classic example: IT is asked to help the business answer the question “which of our customers are the most profitable?” To find the answer, the IT team aggregates data from multiple internal sources and formats, works with the business to define the metrics, and then carefully designs and builds the charts that clearly show the results. They answer the question. But having got that information in their hands, the sales or marketing departments excitedly ask the next question, “why is that?” and “how can we secure more of these profitable customers or transform the profitability of our existing base?” Oh, and by the way, “can I get that on my mobile or tablet please?”

Of course, this is a simplistic example, but it does demonstrate that BI reports and dashboards can often be a victim of their own success in terms of adoption or wanting to share information more widely across multiple devices. IT’s frustration is not that responding will mean more data manipulation, design and report building. The frustration is that if they have chosen what turns out to be an inflexible solution, this unplanned and unscheduled time is not easy to find – particularly when faced with unrealistic expectations from business users who, excited by the prospect of improved performance, want answers today. Another resourcing frustration is that more reports, for more users, on more devices, will cost more money – again unbudgeted and unplanned cost, due to the restrictive licencing agreements for many BI tools.

But if 50 per cent of applications fail to deliver long term – this means that 50 per cent do deliver. The difference is likely to be that IT has anticipated that users will always want more and have chosen a BI or dashboard solution that is fast to build, with a pricing structure that does not penalise successful adoption, which can accommodate any internal or external data source without complex data modelling, and can be deployed to any PC, tablet or smartphone.

Let’s hope that these criteria were in the minds of those designing the Number 10 dashboard and that, whatever insight Cameron feels he would like to add to help him take decisions about all of our futures, the IT team can easily comply.

• Simon Ryan, director of EMEA, LogiXML

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