Eager adopters create headaches for BI projects

At a recent conference, the pitfalls of large-scale implementations were discussed

Providing business intelligence tools to a large number of users can boost a company’s bottom line. However, some IT executives attending Information Builders’ recent Summit 2007 user conference in Las Vegas noted that wider use of the tools can also create problems for IT shops.

Those problems range from slow response times because of eager first-time users trying to access more data than they need, to strong resistance to any changes in BI tool sets.

However, some users at the conference also said that large implementations can go smoothly and provide quick payback.

For example, Ford was able to expand its use of Information Builders’ Web-Focus BI tool this year without major problems, said Jim Lollar, the carmaker’s systems manager for global warranty operations.

Ford initially used the tool to build a portal that provides its 10,000 dealerships with dashboards that show whether their costs for warranty repairs are within corporate parameters, he said.

“The real value is we get these dealers back near their peer group’s average [for repair costs],” Lollar said. “That is when they really save Ford money.”

This year, Ford added a WebFocus-based application that collects data about repair performance for corporate auditors, Lollar noted.

On the other hand, Steve Watson, assistant director of the finance office of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said that when BI tools were first installed there, inexperienced users quickly started running queries unrelated to their jobs.

“We had people running reports and doing queries [that] were causing a lot of performance problems,” he said.

The department quickly implemented customised training programmes to ensure that people only accessed data needed to do their jobs.

Steve Simon, senior technology officer at investment management firm State Street, agreed that giving many users access to reams of BI data is “an accident waiting to happen”.

When State Street users complain that reports take more than five minutes to run, they are told that responses would be far quicker if requests were limited only to information needed to make specific decisions.

The Indiana Public Employees Retirement Fund, which manages US$17 billion (NZ$23 billion) in pension funds for retired public workers, faced different problems when implementing BI tools, said CIO David Huffman.

IT managers there heard loud complaints from users protesting a decision to replace the Impromptu BI tool from Cognos with WebFocus, he said, noting “I had to go against the whole state of Indiana when I switched off Cognos”.

Despite the initial resistance, the retirement fund has successfully implemented the WebFocus tool set, he said, noting that now that the software is in place, state workers receive their first retirement cheque 30 days after retiring. Prior to the switch, they had to wait as long as 180 days.

The agency decided to replace the Cognos tool because it required the IT department to write a new program from scratch every time a user wanted a new report.

To facilitate the conversion process, IT officials based their selection on feedback from users who were involved in testing a variety of tools.