BI Software is Great - But it Won't Solve All Your Problems

Business Intelligence (BI) software is more accessible than ever to organizations of all sizes. And it's great for taking raw data and drawing conclusions from it. But extracting value from data isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you’re not properly prepared, there are issues that can result in disappointing outcomes. The old adage, (that’s been around since the dawn of the database), “garbage in, garbage out” still applies today. Buyer’s of BI software need to temper their expectations. While it has many benefits, it also has limitations; it's best to be aware of the limitations before jumping in.

BI software is the perfect tool for analysis of large data sets. But, if you’re looking for answers to operational questions, you probably already have tools that can handle that job. The real problem may be that the data you're using won’t provide the answers you need. For example, if you’re trying to understand why you’re experiencing excessive material costs in a manufactured product, but you can’t discern scrap costs from routine material usage, then you need additional data. But just knowing total scrap costs won’t be enough for actionable information. You’ll need to have data about which process steps are generating the scrap. And you may have to expand the data to include scrap by shift or operator - to get to the root causes and eliminate the problem. The same concept can apply to almost any complicated area of performance where data is your only reliable source of actionable information. BI software won't resolve such an issue.

Self-service data analytics, with empowered employees, can be another expectation of BI software. But it's not a given that things will play out like you think. It sounds like an easy task, to get everyone using a “simple tool”, but organizational adoption is highly dependent on the level of training provided and leadership’s embrace of the tool. Company culture can play a big role in the organization wide adoption of BI software. Providing boilerplate training and then turning everyone loose with the tool will probably not lead to the results you expect. The "Empowering Everyone" idea reminds me of a corollary; when everyone's responsible, no one's responsible.

Obtaining organizational alignment can be another touted benefit of BI software. But, even if everyone can see performance results in a particular area of performance, if what they see isn’t actionable, (with clearly defined responsibilities for changing the results) then alignment is unlikely. Alignment only occurs when everyone knows where the largest opportunities for improvement are and who is responsible for addressing them. Without that level of detail in your BI displays, everyone in the organization may continue to work towards their siloed objectives and alignment will remain elusive.

ROI can be difficult to measure with BI software, but if you know what to expect, you’ll get your money’s worth. Maximum benefit is obtained when you go into it with proper expectations, including a good understanding of the support required for your team, to attain maximize business benefits.