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Survey: Aligning BI with users, funding among top BI challenges

Our new survey found that aligning BI with end-user requirements and getting executive buy-in topped the list of challenges facing BI professionals.

Technical challenges are increasingly taking a back seat to people and policy issues when it comes to business intelligence (BI) deployments, according to a new survey, Business Intelligence Challenges and Priorities Survey 2010.

Aligning BI technology with business requirements and getting executive support and funding were tied for the top challenges facing BI and data management pros this year, according to survey results. Both were identified by 30% of respondents as top BI-related challenges.

In contrast, the more technical challenges received less attention. Managing system performance and availability, for example, was picked as a top challenge by just 13% of respondents. Data integration as it relates to BI received 23% of the vote.

The survey also uncovered a number of related emerging trends, some that will hearten BI vendors. Implementing new BI technology was the third most common challenge facing BI pros, while 58% of respondents indicated they planned to roll out BI to more business users over the next year.

David O’Keefe, an IT manager for Honeywell International Inc., the aerospace and engineering products conglomerate, said, “BI is an integral part of our strategic application roadmap.” As such, O’Keefe said one of Honeywell’s top BI-related priorities is getting the technology into the hands of more users.

“The main challenge is determining the appropriate end user tool to use to meet any specific reporting need and coordinating the requests with the various internal support groups,” O’Keefe said.

Still, pervasive BI has yet to truly become pervasive, the survey found. Only 32% of respondents said BI was used enterprise-wide (meaning at least 90% of workers used BI). Traditional BI power-users such as data analysts and executives are still the largest population of BI users, according to the survey.

Keeping up with requests for new BI capabilities also ranked high among the list of top challenges, something survey respondent Anne Desotelle could relate to.

Desotelle is the Oracle EPS manager for Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., where she oversees both the hospital’s BI and corporate performance management (CPM) deployments.

In a follow-up interview, Desotelle said she and her team sometimes struggle to meet BI requests in time for them to be truly helpful to users. She said educating users about the time it takes to develop and deploy a new report or dashboard is the key.

Otherwise, “what you spend your time on isn’t really the hot topic anymore,” Desotelle said, and users turn to Excel and manual efforts to meet their BI and analytic needs. “That can lead to errors,” she said.

Desotelle is one of 255 qualified respondents that took the survey in March. Nearly 60% of respondents work for companies with 1,000 or more employees. Just 9% worked for companies with 100 or fewer employees.

In addition to identifying top challenges, the survey asked respondents to identify which BI technologies, by vendor and by type, were at use in their organizations. SAP was the most popular choice among vendors, with 41% saying they used SAP Business Objects products. Another 41% use SAP BI/Explorer/Business Warehouse products, and 38% use Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services products.

IBM Cognos and Oracle rounded out the top five most popular BI products.

There were some overlaps in products used, as just over half of respondents reported two or more BI tools in use at their organizations. Honeywell’s O’Keefe was one. “Our primary BI tool is the solution provided by SAP,” O’Keefe said. “However, we have other self-service and dashboarding tools in use.”

Of those with multiple BI tools, however, 53% said they planned to consolidate BI technologies at use within the next five years.

Among emerging BI-related technologies, data warehouse appliances garnered the most attention, with 51% of respondents saying they are using or considering using the technology. That’s up from 30% last year.

Open source BI and SaaS or on-demand BI, on the other hand, seem to be losing their appeal with just 25% and 29% of respondents saying they are using or considering using the technologies. That’s down from 52% and 41%, respectively, from last year.

The survey also asked about the use of CPM and advanced analytics. Implementing new CPM technology, integrating BI and CPM platforms, and managing reports and dashboards are the top three CPM-related challenges facing BI pros, according to the survey.

Forty-three percent of respondents said their organizations currently use or plan to use advanced analytics software, most to support tracking, segmenting and retaining customers.

The survey also revealed that a wide variety of job titles participate in BI deployments. Of the 255 respondents, 15% were IT managers/directors, 13% were systems analysts, 11% were business analysts, and 10% were information/data architects.

The largest group of respondents at 19%, however, had non-management titles.

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