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Why business intelligence “solutions” fail

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Someone recently asked me why I thought visually-based business intelligence technology (usually meaning dashboard approaches) often fails, particularly in larger organizations.

Success in using BI daily must surely depend on many things. I think the following are probably pretty important. Others will have other views/additional considerations, but here goes:

a) You need to very carefully define what the users need to know. That is opposed to what might be easier (because you have the data) or what looks cooler;

b) One of the problems with “enterprise solutions” is that one size, or view, does not necessarily fit all. I think a useful trend is toward “desktop solutions”, like getting everyone set up and running with dashboards based on products like Tableau, Spotfire, or even MS Excel that they can customize for their own priorities. Of course, the flip side of that is the problem of ensuring that everyone continues to compare apples to apples, and don’t start to use conflicting measures;

c) “Enterprise solutions” from (insert big company name) are expensive and often require a great deal of training. Then people go back to doing what they were doing anyway, and it ends up being a waste of time and money. On top of that, from what I’ve seen, many of the big-box technologies offer truly awful visualizations and particularly bad dashboards. Their clients fork over the big bucks and go on happily thinking that they are on the cutting edge with their data visualization;

d) Good data visualization and presentation requires some knowledge as to what works well and what doesn’t, in what situations and for what kinds of measures. It’s not hard to learn, but most often people are not aware of this, and so just forge on ahead with the usual horrible 3-D charts etc. A good business intelligence solution includes more than software; it also develops the client’s ability to use it to their advantage;

e) Please don’t even get me started on “infographics”…they can be great, but not if you get some “design firm” who don’t understand how to present data.

f) How you go about presenting your BI findings to decision-makers is critical. Presenting data and findings live or in an effective report, like data visualization, requires some specific knowledge and skills . Again, people often don’t know this or, underestimating its value, don’t want to put in the effort.

So there. I’d like to hear what you think.