Five BI potholes to bypass

These experienced users already steered their way clear. Now they map out how you can, too.

Business intelligence might be a maturing technology, but it's far from hassle-free. Tedious technology issues, including the need for comprehensive data cleansing and integrating incompatible computer systems, are still a big part of nearly all BI projects.

But it's the planning, return on investment and people issues that users continue to count among their biggest BI problem areas. Here, five IT executives map out their strategies for navigating around user resistance and resentment, creating quick ROI wins and managing overenthusiastic vendors.

1. Setting User Expectations Too High.

One of the earliest and easiest-to-hit potholes on the road to BI success is what Danny Siegel describes as the "radical variance" between BI software applications that are "functionally rich and very pretty," and the reality of what can be accomplished with the data a company has to work with.

"People dig themselves a hole by demonstrating next-gen capabilities to a user community that doesn't even have the data to get into standard reporting," says Siegel, director of data warehousing and business intelligence at Pfizer.

Part of the problem lies in how vendors make their case to IT executives during the software selection process. "Those presentations tend to be highly structured with as much visual appeal as possible, because they're trying to sell business users," Siegel says.

"But the reality is that the true requirements are not around what's visually appealing. They're around getting complex reports turned into something that's navigable," he adds. "It's block-and-tackle reporting that's needed."

Allowing a vendor to show end users a BI system that's replete with color charts, graphs and tables is a near guarantee of user dissatisfaction with the system that ultimately gets implemented. One way around that pothole, Siegel says, is to insist that vendors work with actual company data during all software demos.

"I give the vendor live data with all of its vagaries, inaccuracies and dirt," he says. "Sure, we want a system to be visually appealing, but we also want it to be meaningful. Piloting with your vendors is important because you're showing your users what can [actually] be achieved."

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