Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dresner's Point: Organizations Need to Eliminate Data Sheep in BI

Perhaps a tag with “some assembly required” should be attached to business intelligence analytics tools.
We just released in July our Advanced and Predictive Analytics Market Study report in our Wisdom of Crowds series, and I wanted to explore the topic in more depth in one of my recent Friday #BIWisdom tweetchats. Our market survey found that awareness of the importance of BI analytics is high (90 percent), but adoption of analytics tools is in the early stages of deployment even though many of the tools have been available for decades.
I asked the tweetchat tribe about the current challenges that BI analytics face (from the users’ point of view) and, as usual, they tweeted a variety of opinions.
Several agreed that the biggest challenge is there are too many solutions and thus a lot of hype, which leads to confusion. Someone else commented that it’s not there are too many tools but rather that organizations haven’t found the right ones for their industry or segment specificity.
A dominant viewpoint among the group held that a lot of the analytics tools don’t scale or perform the way they were “told and sold,” especially when it comes to accessing multiple data sources. That comment generated a resounding thumbs-up response from several in the group. One person asked how it’s possible to “see through the PR fluff to the truth.”
Cost factors into the challenges too. Several agreed that user-based, per-seat license costs are too high. Another tweeted that license is never the biggest cost but is the first one looked at and often a driver. For that reason, vendors often discount license fees. But they rarely discount services such as implementation, maintenance and support, which are also significant.
The challenge that rose to prominence in our tweetchat is the lack of training and support for analytics tools. As the #BIWisdom tribe observed:
" A big challenge is data literacy. Users can see their stats but might not know what they mean.
" Companies are scrambling for analytics talent, and software companies are touting “everyone an analyst.” But not everyone is a data analyst. However, most users need to know how to adjust two or three key variables for better output. Data fluency among users is needed. Not everyone needs to be fluent in “talking” directly to the data, but every user needs a basic understanding. So a stratified approach is needed.
" Breeding a lifetime of data analysis starts with good training and support.
Most of the group agreed that education is playing a huge part in converting traditional data users to BI, but they dismissed the notion that it’s happening quick enough for the shift to analytics and predictive analytics.
And everyone agreed that all business people need education on critical thinking to become analytically driven. One of the tribe summed up the discussion: users lacking the ability to think critically are a big BI challenge for organizations today.
Bottom line: Organizations need to avoid what I call “data sheep” – creatures with a total reliance on software tools to present analysis and data. People still need to think. Knowledge of how to create a BI plot, for instance, and which type to use, is appropriate even if a tool automates it.
Sheep need the guidance of shepherds. Training in the principles of data analysis is necessary for BI analytics success, regardless of the tool. Also, even if a tool is ideal for an organization, the company culture will likely need to adapt, which requires education.

My opinion – and not stated sheepishly – is that all obstacles that stand in the way of business insights and users need to be minimized. The best way to achieve that is through training and support.
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Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC,  an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.

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