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Business Intelligence Success - An Adaptive Challenge

I read an interesting book last week called Immunity to Change, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.  In it, the authors focus on individual and organizational factors that impede successful change, and they discuss a distinction between technical challenges and adaptive challenges.  A technical challenge may be difficult, but the skills required to meet the challenge are well known.  On the other hand, individuals and organizations often face adaptive challenges – where successful change requires transforming mindsets by advancing to a more sophisticated way of thinking or acting.  Based on my experience as a business intelligence (BI) strategy consultant over the past 12 years, I believe BI success is more of an adaptive challenge than a technical challenge.  I share my reasoning in a moment.

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There are certainly technical challenges along the road to successful business intelligence, analytics, and big data initiatives.  These technical challenges come in many forms, e.g. integrating data from disparate sources, meeting the increasing demand to provide real-time or right-time data refreshes, developing business rules and data definitions, managing metadata and master data, and delivering BI and analytics in a form that users find acceptable, to name but a few.  That being said, there are proven methods and tools, and many skilled professionals who know how to use the methods and tools to overcome the technical challenges.

On the other hand, I’ve seen many companies struggle with business intelligence, analytics, and big data initiatives due to a mindset that limits their openness to change.  Here are two examples from my experience that illustrate some of the adaptive challenges companies face:

  •  a CPG manufacturer is struggling to make progress with its BI initiative because its business community sees BI and analytics as “better reporting.”  As a consequence, they have under-invested and failed to engage to learn more about the profit impact of business intelligence.  And while they say they want to leverage scorecards and dashboards, the idea of using them to manage by exception has not been embraced.  Essentially, their mindset is not where it needs to be for BI success, and this is an adaptive challenge.
  • a financial services firm is struggling to make progress with its BI initiative because its IT leaders see BI projects as being the same as applications development projects, and because using shared services is seen as more important than optimizing their approach to meet the requirements for BI success.  The business sponsor is sharp and sees that the conventional IT approach does not suit the speed and flexibility needed in the BI world.   Further, the conventional approach will waste resources to perform tasks and generate documents that add no value from a BI project execution perspective.  Essentially, the IT mindset is not where it needs to be for BI success.

More broadly, companies that seek to fully leverage business intelligence, analytics, and big data generally face the adaptive challenge of changing the culture around the use of information and analysis to inform key decisions and to measure, manage, and improve business results.  A recent report by Harvard Business School Analytic Services (The Evolution of Decision Making) provides further examples.  For example, the report discusses key adaptations companies make in order to fully leverage BI and analytics:

  •  they leverage BI and analytics to enable quicker, more informed decisions;
  • they make the same information and analyses available to the entire company at the same time in order to eliminate arguments about whose data is right;
  • they standardize the processes for making key decisions;
  • they expand their skills to leverage BI and analytics in more robust ways; and
  • they balance instinct and managerial judgment with the use of BI and analytics.

The report is a good read, and it points to the kinds of adaptive challenges companies face in leveraging business intelligence, analytics, and big data.

More broadly, it is important to understand the specific adaptive challenges your company faces, which can be identified via a business-driven, multi-factor BI Readiness Assessment.  An effective and practical  business intelligence strategy must be based on a firm understanding of both the technical and adaptive challenges, and a BI Readiness Assessment is easy to do and cost-effective.  Armed with the results, the BI team can enlist top management to help overcome the adaptive challenges and ensure BI success.

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