From the BI Scorecard: Impactful BI Remains Elusive for Many

While the economy struggles, demand for BI experts and software shows robust growth -- yet BI adoption has been flat. We explore this and other findings from a new survey by Cindi Howson.

Business intelligence has become mission critical for most businesses. While the rest of economy is struggling, demand for BI experts and software shows robust growth. Despite these positive signs, BI adoption has been flat, and most companies never tap the full potential of BI.

On the bright side, very few BI projects fail, according to our just-published 2011 Successful BI Survey. A small minority is very successful (26 percent) with significant business impact (34 percent). The majority of BI projects, though, are stuck in the middle, not quite realizing the full potential of improved revenues, exceptional customer service, and increased operating efficiency, all powered by business intelligence.

Success rates and impact have improved since we last ran the survey in 2009. If I look at the challenges, though, adoption has been stubbornly flat at 25 percent of employees. On average, customers say BI usage should be roughly double this rate. This suggests that many who would benefit from BI don’t have access, either for budget reasons, reliance on gut feel decision-making, or static spreadmarts. I thought for sure 2011 would be the break-out year for pervasive BI, in part driven by more engaging, easier-to-use tools, lower costs, easier deployments, and, of course, the iPad.

I was wrong. Should I hold my breath for next year?

More successful companies do report higher BI adoption rates, so maybe adoption is a lagging indicator. Companies continue to cite untapped potential, and BI spending shows signs of improvement. However, one of the biggest challenges is in constrained resources. There is more demand for BI than IT can keep pace with, yet IT is slow to transition to the role of enabler versus gatekeeper. In some cases, it’s the business people who would rather fall back on the ease of a prebuilt report, ideally landing on their desk or e-mail inbox. Old habits die slowly. Companies that have given business users a bigger role in BI, more aligned with the goals of the business, have a higher rate of BI contributing to business performance.

Of the myriad of BI tool modules that help provide self-service BI, dashboards have shown the most rapid adoption, now ranked second (business query is ranked first) for the most successfully deployed BI module.

When we first starting surveying companies about how they manage their BI tool portfolio, only a few had a predominant BI standard. Today, a full 69 percent of companies has BI standards, either across the enterprise (54 percent) or by department or line of business (15 percent).

Standardization, though, should never be viewed as a one-size-fits-all approach to BI. It’s about managing those investments to lower support costs and keep people focused on deriving insights via BI, not the fancy bells and whistles of BI. A sizeable portion of customers plans to increase spending with current BI standard vendors, and a majority plans to increase the number of users. However, this year’s survey shows shifts in the vendors customers prefer to standardize on. The survey results also dispel the notion that up-and-coming vendors such as Tableau and QlikTech are only for SMBs or departments.

As with previous years’ surveys, this survey is not sponsored by vendors. so we can ask detailed questions on tool usage and satisfaction with full objectivity. This year’s survey had over 600 respondents. The table of contents and executive summary can be previewed here.

Cindi Howson

About the Author

Cindi Howson is the chief data strategy officer at ThoughtSpot and an analytics and BI thought leader with a flair for bridging business needs with technology. At ThoughtSpot she advises clients on data strategy and best practices to becoming data-driven, influences ThoughtSpot’s product strategy, and is the host of The Data Chief podcast. Cindi was previously a Gartner research vice president as the lead author for the data and analytics maturity model and analytics and BI Magic Quadrant, and a popular keynote speaker.

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