Business Intelligence: Why Is Getting It Right So Difficult?

Business intelligence is the key to turning data into dollars. But that’s only if you get it right.

Business intelligence was the number one technology priority for 2007, according to Gartner. And no wonder. Business intelligence efforts can pay big dividends.  

I’m working on an article right now about how Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s BI efforts have paid off. One area is in recruitment. Admissions can now track the application process--who's applying, how desirable candidates are in comparison to others, who has accepted and so on every day (previously they were often working with outdated information). Such timeliness has enabled the school to be more selective based on demographics and other important factors.

Such success is not a given. For one thing, too many companies think business intelligence is a technology initiative, says Boris Evelson, a Forrester analyst who focuses on business intelligence. That's a big mistake, he says. Business intelligence is a business initiative and should be seen as such.  IT involvement and technology leadership is crucial. It's just that for the BI efforts to succeed, key business decision makers must become BI champions.

Rensselaer’s IT team understood this. The BI/data warehouse project got sponsorship from the top; cross-functional committees set strategy, guided implementation, and set common definitions; IT worked with HR to make learning the BI tools a part of employees’ job descriptions; and training was made mandatory and backed up with a lot of support.

Rensselaer got something else right. They focused on data. The success of the BI efforts would not have been possible without that hardcore focus on the data warehouse—making sure data is clean, setting and enforcing policies, and so on. In fact, Ora Fish, project manager of data warehouse and business intelligence for Rensselaer, put data stewardship and governance at the top of the list when I asked her what factors contributed to the project’s success. CIO John Kolb put it a little differently when he said, “Creating one version of the truth.” Or as my former colleague Ben Worthen writes, “It’s the Data, Stupid.”

That's not the only thing you need for BI success, but without that you have nothing else. (Or as the truism goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.”)

What are your experiences with BI? What hurdles to implementing BI have you seen? 

I’d love to hear.

Diann Daniel

ddaniel@cxo.com

More on Business Intelligence:

5 Key Business Intelligence Trends

10 Keys to a Successful Business Intelligence Strategy

3 Weaknesses in Business Intelligence Today

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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