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Is Your Business Intelligence Like Everyone Else's?

The secret to being better at BI than others - not just being like others - lies in actually knowing what one is doing and thus what else is needed in order to further drive the business.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK

Have you noticed what it often means to make sure that IT applications conform to general standards? It means buying what everyone else is buying. Period.

Do you remember how it was said in the ‘80s that an IT manager could not get fired for buying IBM? In the ‘90s, the same IT manager could not get fired for buying Microsoft. Today, it seems that aforesaid IT manager cannot get fired for buying Oracle, now that Oracle is devouring many of the competing alternatives. Some now say that Oracle’s next big acquisition might be a big business intelligence (BI) vendor.

And isn’t this good? Screw up the implementation with a smaller player on the market and your head might roll. Screw up the implementation with a big player, and you can simply claim that your choice was the same as everyone else’s – whether it works or not.

The same seems to hold true for business intelligence solutions as well. Buy from a major vendor and things are fine. After all, many others bought the tools from these vendors so they must be good. If things go wrong, it must be a normal glitch in the BI machinery. If “everyone” is buying the same thing, then there must be a reason for it, right? If we then use the same consultants as everyone else, we can be sure that we are like everyone else. And this is great, because this way no one gets fired even when things go wrong (except, of course, the consultants).

What? Our solution does not work? But I did it like everyone else! Same software, same consultants! It cannot be my fault! Fire the consultants and bring in some new ones  but only consultants that everyone else is using.

It should seem that there is still often an exaggerated focus on tools when implementing BI solutions. It is easier this way, as the interface can be so cool. Thus, first choose the right tool (i.e., what is known and widely accepted). Then, try to figure out how to use it and what to use it for. This is often done through some good old-fashioned project management, being the same regardless of whether it is for an ERP project or a BI project (even though ERP systems and BI solutions are not the same thing with the same objectives and users). 

In all this, it is nevertheless hoped that one shall somehow automatically be better than the competitors. However, if things are done in the same way as everyone else does them, it is difficult to see how one shall be better. And, in any case, how does one know how good the solution finally is?

Is the BI solution actually used? How is it used? Well, who cares? This is not what others usually measure after a BI implementation! And if it is not used, it must be the same for the others as well!

Actually, it is striking how often the follow-up after a BI project is completely lacking. Once the solution goes live, everyone disappears, moving onward to new horizons – except for the data warehouse team that shall have to live with users that simply do not use the BI solution as expected. By then, the responsible project manager is often long gone, happy to say that all licenses were installed (if not actually used) and that the data was delivered (if not actually all the right data). 

The results of this all too common approach to BI implementation remind me of the joke about the number of surrealists required to change a lightbulb. The answer is three: one to hold the ladder, one to actually change the lightbulb and one to pour the giraffes into the bathtub. 

Unfortunately, it is often the same when implementing BI solutions: one who has a final say on what software to buy, one to head the implementation and one to explain the success of it all after it has been implemented. This attempt at explaining what may not be such a success after all, often sounds as surrealist as pouring giraffes into a bathtub. 

But of course it all works! You just have to change your way of working in order for this beautiful BI piece of work to work! Otherwise, this will not work – and then someone might make short work of putting me out of work! And this would not work now, would it? So let’s get to work and do some work by working differently! Otherwise, my blood pressure is going to be as high as a giraffe’s!

The secret to being better at BI than others – and not just being like others – lies in actually knowing what one is doing and thus what else is needed in order to further drive the business. As not everyone needs the same things, it is rarely the right approach to just follow everyone else. On the contrary, the right approach in order to gain competitive advantage and success often implies being different from most others. But how many dare this? Better let the others be different; and if it works, we can do whatever they did – just like everyone else will do.

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