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Collaboration is key to business intelligence tool implementations

Business units and IT departments aren't always on the same page, but they need to be in order to successfully implement business intelligence tools.

Success in implementing a business intelligence tool can mean a number of things. Some people may measure it in technical terms -- for example, by the quality of BI data or a BI system's uptime levels. But the most important measure of all is business impact -- and on that count many companies may view their BI initiatives as under-performing.

In a recent webinar organized by The Data Warehousing Institute, Cindi Howson, founder of BI Scorecard, presented data from a survey her research and consulting company conducted in 2012 showing that only 24% of respondents characterized their BI projects as very successful. The majority of the 634 IT and BI managers and users who responded said BI systems contributed some to improving overall business performance, but not as much as they expected.

Howson said the main reason for this under-performance is the IT-business disconnect that still exists in many companies. In order for a BI initiative to work, business users must be able to communicate to the IT and BI staff what they need, and then the project team needs to deliver the required functionality. "If you don't get some of these softer things, you'll never be successful," she said.

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Unfortunately, that cycle often breaks down, according to Howson, who provided some tips for keeping everyone on the same page during the development and implementation of a BI system.

Use Agile development methodologies. Howson said many principles of Agile development practices align well with the needs of business users. The Agile approach brings users in close contact with IT and BI teams throughout the development process, increasing the chances that the business side will get something that meets its needs -- even if those needs change during the course of a project.

Communicate effectively, in business terms. "Ban that technobabble," Howson said, adding that BI developers should avoid using too many acronyms in their communications with business users. She also recommended that IT and BI managers and business users go out to lunch during the development process to discuss project goals and plans in an informal setting.

Dedicate a "BI champion." This person may come from the business or IT, but the key is that he understands both sides of deploying a business intelligence tool and can serve as a bridge between the two worlds. Howson said a BI champion should be able to speak intelligently with developers about deeply technical matters but also be able to talk with marketing and sales workers and other users about what they need to do their jobs.

Consider where a BI program resides or reports to. This can be one of the trickier challenges of implementing and managing BI systems. Many businesses structure their BI deployments as IT projects, which makes sense because IT generally puts the systems together. But business users should also own part of a project's success or failure, Howson said. Different companies may come to different conclusions about who should have the greatest control over, and accountability for, BI programs -- the important thing, she said, is to understand the internal politics and dynamics that might come into play as you work to make a BI initiative sustainable.

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at eburns@techtarget.com and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

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