Sidney Hui, Assistant General Manager, Group IT, HKR International
Business analytics is a hot topic for many businesses across different industries and geographies. Organizations of various sizes are already spending a lot of resources on or eagerly contemplating to dive into business intelligence projects. Software vendors are mining the gold in selling BI software and implementation services to their prospective clients. However, more often than not, BI projects fail or not producing the fruit everyone involved in the project had originally anticipated. Simply put, the objective was not met. There are many reasons for that and some of those are not much different from any other IT project implementation culprits. In other words, those issues are not peculiar to BI project.
Project sponsors buy-in, support from senior management, commitment from all project stakeholders, good project scope control, change management control and so on so forth are critical success factors for any BI projects or any IT projects actually. Experienced project manager can expand this list with ease. Nevertheless, from my personal experience in all these years of implementing BI/Data Warehouse projects, a few critical aspects are always being overlooked. In a typical ERP, workflow or transactional application development and implementation, users can be easily identified in the workflow and the role of the job naturally. This is not the case with BI projects. User identification is one of the few critical successful factors peculiar to BI project.
Who is the Real User?
In most of the cases, senior management team is very supportive in BI development. It is not difficult to gain the buy-in and support from them. They have a strong believe about the value and importance of what business analytics could bring about to the organization. Budget allocation and project sign off from them has always been easy in relative to other critical success factors management. System consultants from vendors concentrate on developing and implementing the BI system primarily. They spent most of their energy and time on business requirements and technicality on the BI system. But who are the real users of the BI system is not being identified in most of the implementations from the start of a BI project. To the contrary of what is being preached by the BI pre-sales technical briefs that CXOs will use the beautiful dashboard and powerful OLAP and drilling capabilities of the BI tool, in reality they don't. CXOs are normally too busy to indulge in BI portal themselves. They rely on their lieutenants to provide all sorts of business data and indicators on demand. Project manager from internal IT staff member or from the vendor, tends to assume the CXOs, functional head of a line department or a business unit are the real users. Or in some cases, the project sponsor or CXO may identify someone ‘to be’ the user of the BI platform. These ‘users’ are being directed to use the new BI tool to run some report. They may not have the intrinsic need to inquire the dataset in their daily routine. They took the order from the senior and engaged in the requirement gathering, testing and training of the system. Soon after the implementation of the new system, they may just use the standard reports developed initially by the vendor instead of the more powerful ad-hoc/OLAP query on the data cube.
Strategic Turns Operational
Another promise or objective of developing a BI platform is to enable senior decision makers to develop strategies base on business trends or KPIs generated from the BI system. In many cases however, these projects turned out to be a replacement of the existing operational reports which doesn't provide any strategic value. Many organizations don't have business analysts (or any personnel acting on that role in whatever title they hold) who perform inquisitive drilling on BI platform in order to gain insight on the state of the business operations and provide business forecast and recommendation to the business unit heads for strategy development. The business sponsors thought they have a BI platform and somebody in the organization is applying the tool to get fruitful return on the investment. They want to have those insights but they don’t have the time to spend on using the BI tool themselves or they find it not easy to use and give it up and let someone to act on their behalf.
In essence, before the commencement of any BI project, we must identify who is the real user of the system to produce analytics for the senior management team to consume. Do not assume the CXOs will be the key users. If there is no business user acting on this role, the project sponsor must be informed and persuaded to appoint or even create a new position to fulfill this role. Otherwise, the system will be sitting there with no real user to explore the greatest potential of business analytics.