Don't let user resistance thwart BI projects

Business intelligence is an essential tool and staff need to use it, conference hears

Business intelligence tools can bring a host of advantages to companies, but IT shops must first ensure that the technology is accepted by business users. This was the consensus reached by a panel of IT executives at the Microsoft Business Intelligence Conference in Seattle earlier this month.

Panellists noted that IT managers continue to face obstacles in their efforts to convince users of the merits of BI. One of the main difficulties identifed was showing a return on investment.

Despite such challenges, Randy Benz, CIO at Energizer, said at the conference that the battery maker turned to Microsoft’s BI tools several years ago when its stock price stumbled. The tools helped it make better decisions, which in turn helped boost its stock price, he said.

“My passion for this process grew from that,” Benz said. “We in IT have a very important role in terms of getting information in front of [users] so they can make better decisions.”

But Benz also acknowledged that IT employees must work hard even today to convince users of BI’s benefits. Some users still “don’t realise the power” of BI technology, he said.

Chris Festog, CIO at Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance, said he was hired about two years ago to help turn around an IT department “that had not performed for years”.

The insurer had already made several unsuccessful attempts to replace legacy systems, Festog said. “We had people who weren’t performing. We didn’t have change management.”

Festog developed a strategic plan that leaned heavily on BI technologies to provide users with “better, more timely and quality information for making better decisions”. He also assigned 10% of his staff to focus on BI projects.

Despite the increasing investment in BI projects, some users continue to resist the effort, he said.

“I am a change agent in an organisation that still isn’t sure it wants to change. My organisation actually doesn’t want information; they want to manage the organisation anecdotally. When we come with data, they don’t like us.”

However, as IT shows users how the tools can make their jobs easier, many start asking for the ability to get more data, he said.

Stephen Wetzel, chief technology officer for Arizona’s Maricopa County, said that when he unexpectedly arrived at a county call centre earlier this month he found employees eagerly discussing BI metrics related to the handling of citizens’ calls.

He said discussions about BI would likely have been far less enthusiastic shortly after the county began implementing the technology in 1998.

While some users — especially managers — embraced BI tools, others came on board only when the county began “holding them accountable through the fiscal process” by threatening to cut funding if they didn’t use standardised BI tools.

Despite having encountered resistance from users, all of the panellists chose not to compile formal estimates of return on investment before embarking on BI projects.

“You could quantify it; we didn’t,” said Festog. “I see BI as a fundamental tool for the leadership of the organisation. If we can teach these guys how to use the tools, the return is exponential.”

Benz said “It is as simple as ‘good decisions are better than bad decisions’. You start with that premise and scale your effort. At some point in time, it becomes a little like email. Did you do an ROI when you put in email?”

Because Maricopa County has had to increase spending to meet law enforcement and health care mandates without increasing taxes, “we had to look at the value proposition of making better decisions” and therefore didn’t do a formal ROI study, said Wetzel.

Benz has one last piece of advice: “Don’t wait for unanimous user support.”

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