September 21, 2017

After the Purchase - Introduction

In my role as Principal Consultant for WIT, I’ve had occasion to interact with a variety of clients in different industries and at various stages of their implementation of business intelligence (BI) technology. In that time, I’ve come to observe that whether it’s the wide-eyed, star-gazing experience of the first dashboard view or the seasoned critiques of the analytic expert, a common set of components influence our shared pursuit of progress and success. It seems that, at the outset, hope and promise runs high, followed by a more tempered reality check of what can be achieved within the time and resources available.

With that being said, you may ask: What are the common behaviors of the clientele that successfully achieve and sustain enterprise-wide adoption of their chosen BI solutions? And what factors have the most significant impact on the long-term success of the BI investment?

TableauScreen.jpgIt’s just a dashboard

I find myself quietly cautious and privately amused each time I hear the word ‘just’ used in a discussion about BI technology. The specific tool doesn’t matter - certain statements happen over and over again if you’re attuned to listen for them:

               “Oh, we just want you to do a quick proof-of-concept…”

               ”Can’t you just connect me to this data source...”

               “Just get my server up and running – we’ll take it from there…”

               “Just set me up with these 3 (or 4 or 6) dashboards and we’ll be good to go…”

 … and the most popular one…

               “Just don’t tell IT…”

download.jpgWhen I hear statements like these, a shudder passes through my inner project manager. It’s an early signal that the path to successful implementation will be longer than advertised (or funded) or expected. It’s a warning sign that there are swift and dangerous curves on the road ahead and perhaps a few rounds of changing tires on a moving car before we get to “Destination Deployment”.

I’m not pointing this out to complain or accuse. We who sell and support BI technology bring on these circumstances ourselves. We use the same language throughout our sales cycles:

               “Just point and click…”

               “Just drag and drop…”

               “You just drill-down to see the detail…”

               “See, I just imported and transformed 35 million rows!”

It’s true – the evolution of these tools is truly amazing. Each new version propels us forward and enables us to do so much more, so much sooner, and with greater ease than ever before. Before becoming a consultant, I was a customer and consumer of these products, and I constantly hear myself thinking, “Wow, if only we had tools like this back when”. But sometimes, we just throw these lines in our product demos and technical displays, as though the path to corporate alignment, quarterly profits, and world peace all lie at the signature line of the purchase order. 

 

“Not by technology alone does man live…”

An engineer once warned me, “Any system that relies on human beings is ultimately unreliable”.  He wasn’t wrong but neither was I discouraged. I just took note that human factors matter - a lot.


computersHumans.jpg

I think it’s right to expect and pursue success with our investments in BI. I also know that such success – though achievable – is not consistent. I’ve learned that delays, detours, and frustration can be created if there is not a mindfulness towards a set of human factors and disciplines present within the organization. ‘Business Intelligence’ is not an oxymoron – it is a corporate competency. So how do we avoid or reduce those inevitable speed bumps on the journey? Can we do more to help more customers achieve successful deployments and experience rapid enterprise-wide adoption of actionable, value-added BI technology?

 

Just write a blog!

In pursuit of BI technology, we can make the mistake of pursuing the acquisition of technology more aggressively than we pursue the vision of value we expect to realize from that investment. Sometimes we have no such vision at all! We have not stopped to imagine or sketch out what our realization of success would look like. We presume it will come to us in a YouTube video, or sometime after the training class. Our boss will tell us, or we’ll find out after ‘the meeting’. As the customers and users of these tools, it’s incumbent upon us to define success on our terms. It’s not the purview of the sales team to describe that for us. In my experience (biased as it well may be) our vision of success is colored by our focus and ability to answer two simple (and sometimes not so simple) questions:

So What”… information do you, your team, your boss, (fill in the blank) need to understand what’s happening?

Then What”… will you, your team, your boss, (fill in the blank) actually do if/when you actually have that?

In my experience, our capacity to answer these questions is repeatedly influenced by preparations and practices in four key topic areas.

  1. Organizational Engagement
  2. Operational Management
  3. Data Governance
  4. Communication/Transfer of Knowledge

 

This is the introduction to a four-part blog series addressing the reality of adopting a BI tool after the purchase is completed and creating a culture of analytics at your organization. In future writings, I want to take a stab at addressing one or more of them in combination. I say “in combination” because it’s difficult to talk about them in sequence. They often have an interlaced dependency on one another. I’ll try to talk about them in a certain order, but please don’t mistake that sequence as a recommended progression. As editors often write, “your results may vary”. But I do believe there is value in monitoring your implementation and organizational experience in each area.

 - Vince McCoy, Principal Consultant 

Tagged: Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Data-Driven Decisions, data governance, Data Visualization, Enterprise Analytics, BI Best Practices, BI Consulting, BI Technology, Analytics Software

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