According to Gartner 7 out of 10 Business Intelligence projects failed in 2012. That’s just four years ago. Hopefully that ratio has improved since then. It’s not a problem without a cure. It can definitely be fixed with a few changes in Project Management.

But why do BI projects fail? Well, we’ve noticed a few reasons over the years. But we believe this could be changed significantly by adopting the following 2 simple strategies.

User adoption:

The main and ultimate KPI for a BI Project needs to be “User Adoption”. Everything else that you do in the implementation project needs to be tied to this one KPI. Ultimately, no matter how much money you invest, how much effort you put in and how many nights you spend sleepless, if the users do not adopt it and “use” the system, you have failed!!

This is the critical key to a successful implementation of business intelligence software.

For eg: With the above KPI (user adoption) in mind, the following objectives might be reasonable.

  • Ease of use, with minimum to nil programming or coding required.
  • Mobile capability
  • DIY style as much as possible with little reliance on the IT team and data analysts.

You get the point. End users use social media and a lot of apps on their smart phones for one simple reason. Easy to use. Not much training, no programming, no coding…just download, figure out basic functions and use!

If the BI solution is equally easy to use with minimal training and is of a DIY nature, (for eg: Excel based)  there is a very high possibility that users will adopt the system very quickly.

Often times we’ve seen the C level executive asks for certain reports from the user. The user finds it too complicated to extract and build it. Therefore, he/she asks the data analyst for help. The DA says he needs 2 weeks’ time. That’s ridiculous. The user is already put off with an assumption that the report must be far too complicated for him.

Now the DA is busy building the report, but has no clue “why” the report is needed and he probably doesn’t even realise that the report is tied to a board level discussion. When the report is finally completed, it looks like a complex jumble of numbers with graphs and charts that take hours to decipher.

What went wrong here?

  • The end user has no DIY tool to easily build the report.
  • The DA has no clue “why” the report is needed
  • The DA has no clue that the report is tied to a board room discussion.
  • The DA is technical. As long as he is convinced all the information requested for is in his report, he automatically assumes everyone understands it.
  • The user has turned into a messenger.
  • The C level executive is unhappy with the report and considers it a total waste of time.

How could’ve this been avoided?

  • The user should have had an easy DIY self-service tool to cater to the C level executive’s request.
  • If that were not the case, the DA or the IT team should’ve been invited to the C level executive’s office and explained to about the purpose of the report and its interpretation.
  • Even easier would have been if the C level executive could access the information on his mobile device himself.

So user adoption is key to the success of a BI project. Select your BI solution carefully. Ensure it is something users can easily adopt with very little training and ideally with zero programming, coding or even complex excel formulas.

Goal Setting:

Many companies often haven’t set a goal prior to commencing a BI project. They have been through a few demonstrations of various software’s. They are aware it’s a good investment and therefore make the investment. When we commence the implementation, we learn that the questions raised during the demonstrations had nothing to do with the implementation. A clear documented goal hasn’t been set as yet. This is a golden recipe for disaster. It’s like going to a fortune teller and sticking your palm out, expecting to hear something good.

A good thing to do would be to ask yourselves these questions. Where are we now?

  • How did we get here? In BI terms, this would be the “trend”
  • Where will this lead me? In BI terms, this would be “forecast”
  • What can I change to meet my ambitions for the company? In BI terms, this is “What-If”
  • What information do we need to help us get there?

In BI terms, this is called a Storyboard. A storyboard is an outline of all reports and dashboards you are going to build over the entire BI implementation project. Hence it is critical you ask these questions prior to commencing the BI implementation project.

Often times, we’ve seen users and report developers rush into designing reports, dashboards and colourful charts without having a comprehensive knowledge of the solution they need. Too often, it is because the users and the developers were not in the room when the above questions were being asked.

It is important to start off with a self-explanatory storyboard for a successful BI implementation. In addition to identifying your reports and dashboards, the storyboard also helps you create a workflow for each step, leading to the final data analysis. Having this storyboard helps both the company and the implementation project manager keep track of progress being made and ultimately measure the ROI. More importantly, if done right, a BI dashboard can potentially be a very powerful tool in the hands of a CEO or a CFO.

Some Tips

  • When building a Storyboard, ensure you give an easily identifiable name for each dashboard or report you intend to generate.
  • Building a one size fits all dash based on very little knowledge of the “storyboard” is another recipe for failure. Try and avoid this. At best have a maximum of two departments (that are related in some way) to share a dashboard. There is no need for a Logistics person to have a tab for HR on his dashboard.
  • Try not to mirror what you already have on the new BI dashboard. You don’t need the reports you already have on Excel or Crystal Reports on your BI dashboard. You didn’t invest in BI just to get a better looking report. You are trying to get to your ambitious goal and you need analytical information. Try to focus on information that is otherwise complicated to get.

There are many other factors involved in a BI implementation, but staying focused on “user adoption” and “Goal Setting” can change your experience dramatically.

In conclusion, your Number 1 KPI needs to be User Adoption. Invest in a easy to use, DIY type BI tool with very minimal user training, zero programming and very little ongoing consulting services.


Santosh Chandran is the Business Development Manager for Business Intelligence at Olympic Software. He regularly blogs about business intelligence and corporate performance management. You can follow him on Twitter  or on LinkedIn.  Please contact him directly if you would like to find out how BI360 can improve your business results through better decision making, phone 09 980 3964 or email: