In a 1954 speech at Northwestern University, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower quoted what he said was a comment made by "a former college president" who he didn't identify. "I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important," Eisenhower recounted the unnamed academic saying. "The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."
Forty years later, self-help author Stephen Covey popularized a time management framework based on that comment, balancing importance, urgency and the lack of those two things. Even though the quote didn't originate with Ike, the resulting four-quadrant diagram is commonly referred to as the Eisenhower Matrix or Eisenhower Box -- and its tenets can help boost adoption and effective use of business intelligence tools in organizations.
BI vendors talk about providing analytics capabilities to the C-suite and other business users, but many seem to have forgotten the importance of ensuring that their software is used in ways that are actually valuable to companies. Sales pitch after sales pitch puts front and center all the technical power that the developers could imagine -- the vendor's sales reps fly through a plethora of data visualization options and a wealth of analytics features. What often doesn't get addressed is how to manage use of the software to help business execs and workers focus on important and urgent items, and prevent them from wasting time on BI applications that would fit into the lower-right side of the matrix. (See image below.)
Why does that happen? In a lot of cases, vendors pushing BI and data visualization tools still focus their attention on the IT department. Up to a point, that makes sense. IT is the group that can best evaluate whether technology works as needed by an organization and assess how expensive the different choices are, in order to get the CFO to write a check for the chosen software.
Shelfware or worse on use of BI tools
Too often after a purchase, though, the tool that was bought becomes shelfware. IT developers create a couple reports or visualizations that get used by the business, but things bog down on the development side and end users don't take to the BI software themselves. The flip side of that can be even worse: Tools that are easy to use can easily allow unguided business managers to get lost down a BI rabbit hole.
IT and BI managers need to implement solid data governance processes to help ensure that business users can find data that is relevant to them -- and that they only work with that data. The onus is also on BI vendors to provide better data governance capabilities in their products, particularly self-service BI tools.
In addition, IT and BI teams must invest sufficient time and effort in training users -- and not just on the technical aspects of using a BI tool. Training people on how to focus their data-analysis efforts on queries that generate truly useful information will help them avoid BI initiatives that suck up a lot of time for no good reason. It's human nature to sometimes end up in the wrong quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix, doing work that's neither important nor urgent, but managers of BI programs should take steps to lessen the amount of wandering in the analytics wilderness that occurs in their organizations.
A few "big name" analysts keep claiming that the only problem causing the slow adoption and low use of business intelligence tools in organizations is that those poor, dear businesspeople just don't know how to "think analytically." It's as if until BI software came along, corporate execs and business managers never took a look at sales data and customer information, or analyzed production output. Gee, for the last 30 years, they never used spreadsheets? I beg to differ.
Don't hang on to your IT ego
But to increase both adoption and successful use of BI technologies, IT and BI managers do have to work closely with business users to identify what they truly need to know in the context of each analytics application. Clearly understanding that paves the way for the creation of queries, BI dashboards and reports that can help decision makers act quickly on critically important business issues. They can also use the info to track important, but non-urgent, issues while not getting mired in things that really don't matter.
IT departments need to be the bridge between the technologists at BI vendors and the business communities in their organizations. Don't just look at what the available BI tools can do to make your life easier in supporting your business customers -- let go of your ego and collaborate with them to ensure that what you and your vendors provide truly enhances business decision making. That means user interfaces, algorithms and other BI software features must reflect a real-world understanding of not only the relevant key performance indicators, but also how those KPIs fit into the business environment.
That takes us back to the Eisenhower Matrix. It can serve as a very simple basis for improving communications between vendors, IT managers and business users to help companies deliver BI applications that truly apply intelligence to the realities of business. And that's definitely a good formula for expanding the use of business intelligence software in an effective way.
About the author:
David A. Teich is principal consultant at Teich Communications, a technology consulting and marketing services company. Teich has more than three decades of experience in the business of technology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gartner's take on the IT-business tug-of-war over the use of business intelligence tools
Book excerpt: Tips on creating effective BI and analytics processes in organizations