A majority of employees have yet to use BI in organisations that have implemented it and the adoption rate or percentage of people who use it has changed little since as far back as 2007. In the past two years BI vendors have also gone to some trouble to increase adoption rates but with little effect. The situation is the same here in South Africa as it is elsewhere around the world.
The results that uncovered this situation were not arrived at indiscriminately by surveying all employees who may or may not have been aware they use BI or who may have not used it at all.
It demonstrates then that there are deeper issues companies must resolve before their BI deployments, tools, technologies and solutions will become more useful to the business people who should rely on them, says Falo Makgale, managing consultant at Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID).
The Successful BI Survey by BIScorecard.com was released in January this year and showed that last year BI adoption was 24% of all employees. That was still the case even when the survey enquired about total employees versus the number of BI users, which eliminated the possibility that some employees simply don’t use BI.
It is true that not all employees are BI users so it is inaccurate to calculate adoption based on all employees alone. BI users, in my view, are those who make business decisions, design processes, plan schedules, operate machines, managers and the BI team itself.
Adoption rates may be skewed, however, because some reports and dashboards are produced through the BI tools yet displayed by different applications and media such as Excel and PowerPoint, which means viewers may be unaware they are using BI at all.
However, besides the small potential for skewed survey results, BI adoption could clearly still be greater than it is. BI is still viewed in many organisations, particularly locally, as an IT function. That implies a separation from business yet integrating the two would improve adoption and that would offer a number of business benefits.
One of the reasons for the continued separation is that BI developers and business analysts continue to speak different languages. BI developers talk technology while business analysts are speaking about business strategy, which results in scope creep.
Scope creep scuppers BI projects and adoption because developers end up writing functionality into the reports and dashboards that is not used. In one instance I have seen a BI implementation with 12 000 reports based on only eight dimensions. That would intimidate even veteran BI users looking for a specific report.
The solution lies in aligning BI teams with business strategists, managers and executives but how do companies achieve that and what would be the benefit? The solution takes time and requires strategic commitment at executive level to achieve integration down through all levels of the business and across all silos.
While the ultimate goal is to have all of these aligned the premise should be to start in one area and expand over time.
One of the fundamental demonstrations of how the two camps speak different languages, and how they have come to expect that of each other, is that BI developers can easily sell the idea of a sales report to a sales manager. Of course sales managers want to and need to know how many units or hours of service they’ve sold, measurement is a management fundamental, but they need to do more than that.
What they need to know, to realise the business strategy, is how to penetrate certain markets more deeply, grow profits, expand margins, grow the customer base, or reduce churn, for example. That may well rely on a sales report but BI developers could offer far more to help them achieve their goals. The point is that business people don’t care for reports; they care for tools that will help them achieve their goals.
Simple sales reports help little in that context and offering one may be helpful in a less significant way to the people who will use it. It also makes business people wary of BI developers because they’re not seen to be particularly helpful in achieving real business goals, instead they merely answer point questions.
The chasm that results develops a level of mistrust at executive level so that, when company strategies are formulated, BI developers and data architects are not included in the discussions. Yet they should be. It would immediately allow the strategists to learn whether or not what they are asking for is possible or they could be informed that more is possible in helping them achieve their aims.
They would arrive at a clearer, more precise strategy that would help them achieve their goals in shorter time periods, using fewer resources, costing less, and achieving more.
Not all South African businesses suffer the malady of BI buried in the IT department and talking geek so that business executives mistrust them. At least one of the big four banks in our country has employed BI very successfully. They create business views using BI solutions and put them to effective use. For example, they use BI to reduce customer churn, a significant issue for financial services companies.
Yet, while the solution is eminently possible and there are local examples, many executive, management, and BI teams are under pressure to simply maintain systems, get results quickly, prove return on investment (ROI) – all with a minimum of resources.
They end up putting out fires instead of working towards improvement, without the opportunity to implement many of the resolutions they may well know about. Working towards resolving that issue requires BI and data professionals to broker a common dialect with business people so they can pull towards a common goal.