Three challenges that will make or break your BI and analytics investment

Geoff Scott Profile picture for user geoff.scott February 10, 2020
Data is the new oil, but BI and analytics teams are being asked to do more with less. Something has to give. ASUG CEO Geoff Scott shares surprises about self-service BI - and the three stumbling blocks BI teams must overcome.

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The corporate road to business intelligence has long been paved with good intentions. I was a CIO, so I know this firsthand.

But on this particular thruway, where every business is intent on becoming more intelligent, it seems that some of the fundamentals of how businesses accrue, consume, and capitalize on the data that drives their analytics has been lost during the ride.

Shiny, self-serve analytics not necessarily the answer

Executive buy-in is lacking today, even though most businesses plan to pour significant dollars into their BI and analytics portfolios. There are some institutional disconnects over the effectiveness of self-service and mobile delivery mechanisms. And while plenty of users are salivating over these shiny, new analytics objects, back-office BI and IT teams struggle to deliver coherent reports and dashboards on the systems they already own. They also are struggling with data governance, as I wrote about previously in my article about the potential for data disasters.

Those are my main takeaways from speaking with our members and reading research ASUG completed for our upcoming BI+Analytics Conference in March 2020. Let’s take a closer look at three challenges many companies are facing as they strive to accelerate their businesses through their business intelligence function.

Challenge 1: both executive and cultural buy-in are needed

As strange as it is to say in 2020, BI and analytics programs need more top-level support. Respondents to our survey said they were looking for leadership for their BI and analytics efforts, which says to me that these programs might be a lower priority than one would presume.

What could that strong executive support do? Respondents told us that executive sponsorship “would help address data governance issues, educate the organization about analytics standards, and define a universal BI and analytics strategy.”

This support could help with pockets of cultural resistance to data-driven decision-making. As the ASUG report stated.

The practice of driving decisions with data often demands changes in an organization’s behavior and culture. These types of changes require guidance from executive sponsors who understand the BI field and can support efforts around the data governance that’s needed for a single source of truth across an organization.

The head-scratching topper for this situation? Most businesses plan to spend more money on their BI and analytics portfolios: 68% of survey respondents expect their BI portfolios to increase. If BI programs are stretched thin now, adding more technology to their stack isn’t necessarily the right way to solve this issue.

Challenge 2: the self-serve analytics trap

Another interesting trend from the report related to how end users will interact with BI and analytics software. SAP customers we surveyed want tools that are user-friendly, offer self-service delivery, and are fast. So, while having technically sound tools with trustworthy data are both important for the end users these BI teams are serving, it’s not enough. “They want to be told what data is important and why it’s important,” one respondent to our survey stated.

To me, this means that while the goal of self-service BI tools is still worthy and achievable, the users still are going to need help with all those beautiful visualizations and dashboards. As one respondent said in the study: “Nontechnical managers need easy and intuitive ways to find and understand this data.”

And now that everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, many users will look for those dashboards on their mobile devices—especially at the executive level. ASUG research found that, on average, 23% of users of BI tools were viewing the data via a mobile device. To me, that’s a number that’s only going to rise.

“Some companies may require change management to encourage their employees to use mobile devices to interact with data,” our report noted, “while others may find that adoption of analytics programs depends on making them mobile friendly.”

Self-service works best when the work is focused on the company’s most critical KPIs, and when BI teams can stay equally focused on putting those in users' hands—rather than trying to serve 1,000 masters, all with their different devices.

Challenge 3: you can't satisfy users without help from tech

At the gates of every company are a myriad of cloud-based, emerging technologies just waiting to bust in. And there’s no shortage in the BI and analytics space either.

So who’s guarding the gates? BI and analytics teams, who, like many others today, are being asked to do far more with much less. Nevertheless, as our study finds, “business users are turning to these teams more frequently to get them the information they need, when they need it, to become more agile.” And they want their shiny, new technologies.

“Emerging technology is expected to help fill that need,” according to our research. “This is driving BI teams to consider automation, artificial intelligence (AI), easier extraction of data from the Internet of Things (IoT), and machine learning to help them put data into context more quickly.” Unless companies change their approach today, BI teams just aren’t staffed to do everything the business is asking of them. And, let’s face it, there is so much data to analyze now, it’s impossible for humans to accomplish this without help from technology such as artificial intelligence (AI).

Using advanced technology can help satiate business users if it helps get the right data distributed quickly to the right people so it can truly drive decision-making. As one respondent noted, “When we shifted the stored procedures from Microsoft SQL into SAP HANA, the business users noticed the difference. What used to take us a day to refresh reports with millions of rows of data at month-end close now takes less than an hour. So, they’re happy.”

Moving to the cloud is another way our study participants are adding advanced functionality and better distributing their data. One participant stated: “To use the latest and greatest features, you must go to the cloud platforms.”

The BI road ahead

ASUG believes that all businesses will eventually need to become an intelligent enterprise that aligns with their organization’s opportunities, goals, and aspirations. As our research found, many businesses today, however, are facing significant yet manageable barriers to their digital progress.

If data is the new fuel that powers every business, then we believe it’s going to require more care and attention at the business strategy level - especially as business aspire to be intelligent enterprises. Putting leaders in place who understand how to build data-driven enterprises will be key to success here. It’s time that we invest the right amount of resources into BI and analytics if we want to get the full value out of this function.

If you’re interested in hearing from some SAP customers who are doing BI the right way - including Honda R&D North America, the San Francisco 49ers, Southwire, Medtronic, Lockheed Martin, and more - join us at the ASUG BI+Analytics Conference, March 9–11. I’ll see you there.

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