BI, Big Data or Business Intelligence: these are the buzz words thrown around incessantly in the business world today. Until recently they were associated with large enterprise needs but as BI technology has advanced, licensing, deployment and support options have made it more affordable for small and mid-sized organisations to consider. But with many BI implementations failing to meet business expectations, we consider some of the biggest mistakes made in implementing BI initiatives.

  • Leading with technology and not your business need

A BI solution will not be a substitute for an in-depth understanding of your business and its challenges, so don’t assume that BI tools alone will solve your business problems.

Your staff need to have a clear vision of the decisions they want to make based on their business data, how they’re going to measure their data to make those decisions and where that data comes from.

Yes, a good BI solution will allow you to dive into data to derive insights that help solve business problems; but you first need to understand exactly what problems you’re trying to solve and how the selected BI solution will help you solve them.

Be careful about implementing a general tool for all types of users– BI isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Sadly, many organisations are impressed by and choose to implement “wow factor” functionality with no real understanding of whether or not the solution is a good fit for their business.

  • Not investing in the data

Your insights will only be as good as the data that’s going into the BI solution. Don’t think that some good-looking charts from bad underlying data is good BI, or that the same sort of visualisation will work across different datasets.

Someone needs to take responsibility for data management, because good BI depends on quality data. If your data is flawed or isn’t cleaned and validated adequately, your BI initiative will fail. It is as simple as that.

And the biggest cost may not be the lack of return on your BI investment. Think about the consequences of basing critical business decisions on flawed data.

  • Replicating historical reports

Making decisions based on existing reports recreated in your new BI solution will inevitably limit the return on your investment. On the flip side, being billed for (by internal or external IT resources) for every small change to a report isn’t what analytics is about – your business users should be able to explore and manipulate data on the fly.

For long-term planning, it’s important to identify all of the current reporting requirements, as well as the downstream users of the data.  But it’s also important to do so with an open mind, so that the new solution isn’t bound by the same limitations as the existing systems.

Although it’s tempting for business users to reproduce an existing set of reports, this isn’t the best approach. It doesn’t allow you to take advantage of the additional capabilities provided by the new BI tools, and may also reproduce existing errors in the new reports.

A much better way is to work with the users and business analysts to define their reporting ‘wish list’ – a list of requirements and metrics based on internal discussion and collaboration. Workshops are a great forum for brainstorming and getting users to ‘think outside the box’ when considering “What are we trying to measure that we can’t measure now?” (Insights & Metrics); “Why is it important?” (Business Impact) and; “What would it mean for the business if we could solve this problem?” (Success Metrics).

By taking the time to define the wish list, the project team can sidestep the limitations of the existing reporting system and help provide enhanced reporting capabilities for the end users.

  • Underestimating the need for training

BI isn’t as easy as vendors would have you believe, so don’t believe Sales reps who say “our solution is intuitive” or “your team need minimal training” – remember, license sales go straight to the vendor’s bottom line. Ongoing and thorough training is critical to maximising user adoption and getting the greatest return on your BI investment.

  • Leaving BI implementation to the IT team

There’s a common misconception that BI projects are IT projects. While Information Technology is obviously an important component of BI projects, it’s better to treat BI initiatives as business projects which are enabled using technology.

It is the business users that will ultimately decide the success or failure of the project. The business needs to take the lead role in understanding current pain points, defining their information requirements (use cases) and outlining the positive business outcomes they want to achieve, and then ensuring the BI solution can meet these requirements.

This is in contrast to the approach often taken, in which IT determines and delivers on what it believes to be the user requirements, only inviting the business on board in the latter stages of the project. Not resolving this misalignment between IT and business users can result in conflict over scheduling priorities and diminished resources.

Organisations that actively plan to avoid these common mistakes will maximise the BI opportunity. When planning your BI initiative, ensure your technology partner understands these common pitfalls and is focused on achieving business outcomes, not just implementing your BI platform. If you’d like to continue this conversation or seek help with your BI project, please contact us.