BI's Dirty Secret: Better Tools Are No Match for Bad Strategy

IT faces more pressure than ever to deliver actionable BI data to the business. But the smartest CIOs say this is no time to blindly throw BI to the masses. Better tools do no good without smart business strategy and the right starting data.

By Thomas Wailgum
Fri, January 29, 2010

CIO — The pressure on CIOs to deliver business intelligence tools and analytic applications—on the cheap and ASAP—has been building steadily for years. In 2010, survey results point out that that demand has reached a fever pitch with which CIOs are very familiar.

"The interest in BI, use of it and sophistication of the use just grows every year," says Bill Swislow, CIO and SVP for product at Cars.com. "There are always business problems, and people are always looking for new BI tools to solve old problems."

[ For more on BI, see CIO.com's ERP and BI: A Match Made in Heaven, If You're in Data Hell ]

Recent Aberdeen surveys of enterprise execs show that BI has ranked number one (for two years running) as the technology that will have the most impact during the next two to five years. A January 2010 Kognitio and Baseline Consulting survey of BI practitioners noted that they expect to see "deeper use" of BI at their companies this year and plan to add capabilities to more business lines. Almost one-third surveyed indicated that they plan to roll out new BI tools into the corporate mix.

So what does that all mean for CIOs and IT departments? Whether your company is a newbie or a seasoned BI user, the demand for analytic applications will most likely be insatiable for the foreseeable future. "It has certainly in our business become increasingly influential," says Cars.com's Swislow. "Ya know, it gives one a feeling of knowledge, power and influence. And knowledge is power, right?"

Swislow should know. Before he added the CIO role to his title just about a year ago he was, he says, "one of the most active users and strongest advocates for BI initiatives from business side." Now he's the one having to field the requests, explain and expand IT's capabilities, and help the business get its BI wants and needs, where and when possible.

For sure, BI analytic apps and dashboards are hotter than a recent Tiger Woods photograph. But in a mad corporate rush to deliver BI and analytic applications to ever-eager business users, CIOs should first determine what are the business processes that will be made more efficient by the BI tools; ensure that the right data will get to the right people using the BI solution; and then select the correct software tools that will ultimately help users make more informed and intelligent decisions.

In other words, now is not the time to blindly throw BI technology to the masses.

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