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Business intelligence not all it can be at most organizations, according to Gartner

Gartner says most organizations have failed to realize business intelligence (BI)'s full value. At the Gartner BI Summit, analysts offer advice for making the most of BI.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- It's a truism that  business intelligence (BI) is among the top -- if not the No. 1 -- IT-related priorities for CIOs.

The reality, however, is that most companies have not translated that high prioritization into high value, a disconnect that is the focus of Gartner's Business Intelligence Summit, being held just outside Washington, D.C., this week.

In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2012, more than 35% of global 5000 companies will regularly fail to make critical decisions because they don't have access to timely information and the analysis to do so.

But this failure to maximize the value of BI is not for a lack of trying on the part of IT departments. IT workers, who are struggling to meet BI user requirements and demands -- often to no avail -- are understandably discouraged.

"Most business intelligence workers I talk to are frustrated," Gartner's Kurt Schlegel said in his joint keynote address (along with fellow analyst John E. Van Decker) at the summit Monday morning. "A lot of these BI people feel like they're just pushing a rock up a hill."

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Schlegel and Van Decker identified five root causes for the discrepancy between BI prioritization and actual value, most of which they lay at the feet of IT departments, despite their good-faith best efforts. They are:

  • A lack of coordination between IT and the business. Too often, Schlegel said, IT departments view BI business users as customers, not partners. "This leads to a lot of finger-pointing" when user expectations are not met.

  • A lack of connection between BI tools and corporate strategy. Most BI deployments are undertaken at the departmental level, which precludes coordination with larger corporate strategy, leading to a sort of BI "urban sprawl."

  • A lack of connection between BI and business processes. To reach its full potential value, BI must do more than just deliver the right information to the right users at the right time, Schlegel said. Insights and analysis gleaned from BI systems and tools also must be inserted into actual business processes.

  • A lack of BI governance or, in some cases, too much governance. Governance of BI processes is often either departmental -- again leading to a lack of coordination with the larger enterprise -- or too centralized, leading to BI bottlenecks. The ideal balance lies somewhere in between, Schlegel said. "Like the Goldilocks story, governance has to be just right."

  • A lack of skills in business users. Business users need training to make the most of BI tools, Van Decker said. "We have very sophisticated applications … that essentially the users are not taking full advantage of [owing to a lack of training]," he said.
  • To close the gap between the perceived and actual value of BI, a number of steps must be taken, both analysts said.

    Among them, IT workers must leave their comfort zones. In addition to deploying and managing the technology, which IT departments do well, IT workers must also become BI "evangelists," Schlegel said. "You have to sell the business case for BI. You have to change the culture of your organization" from one of gut-based decision making to information-based decision making.

    IT workers also must reconsider how they deliver information to end users. Traditionally, on one end of the spectrum, users either access information through static reports or through ad hoc queries, Schlegel said. Instead, IT should focus on developing interactive reports to meet both demands.

    On the other end of the spectrum, more sophisticated users often create their own spreadmarts, which by definition fall outside the view of IT, to make up for the limitations of ad hoc queries. IT departments should develop data discovery environments that empower users to do the analysis they need, but which also let them connect that analysis back to the organization.

    Attendee Chad Erman, who heads the BI unit at Southwestern Energy, said his organization was among the many that put a high priority on BI but have struggled to maximize its value. "We noticed a lot of people think in terms of reports, instead of BI or key metrics," Erman said. "What I constantly had to remind them … is: What is the question you're trying to answer? Then work to achieve that goal."

    The key to improving BI value at Southwestern, a Houston-based natural gas company that uses Cognos BI software, has been better coordination between the IT department and its business units, Erman said.

    "It has to be a true marriage [between IT and the business]," Erman said. "The business truly understands what the company is doing, and IT helps [to make] sure it has what I call a good buttoned-up solution."

    Schlegel, too, stressed the importance of IT and business coordination to maximize BI value. "IT and the business have to come together," he said. It may seem obvious, but "if there's one lever you can pull to overcome the BI discrepancy, this is it."

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