5 BI Requests IT Groups Must Challenge

If actionable business insight, the stuff of BI legend, is the Mt. Everest summit, know this: There's little point to building or buying a better ice pick if the climbing team has no arms.
As you begin to light up the entire room, you need to shove your entire organization in there. Widespread adoption of BI platforms is critical for their success. Widespread adoption is critical because the regular, pervasive consumption of data is what forces it to be cleaned. And the more people who consume it, the greater the urgency for real data stewardship and investment in data quality.

More light leads to more use of data, which leads to cleaner data, which leads to more light. Done right, this is BI's virtuous circle. It leads to the kind of open and transparent culture that Justice Brandeis had in mind when he said that "sunlight is the best disinfectant."

4. Let's focus on my business priorities.

Given that BI adds the most value when its woven into the entire org's daily work lives, only one word throws the above sentence off: my. It needs to be "our," and in the largest sense possible.

There is, as always, a delicate balance. Here's an example of the right mix:

The CIO's office spells out a list of company values that apply to nearly every employee at every level of the org. Values such as a focus on execution, operational excellence, resilience, reliability and risk management.

Each value is tied to specific metrics (e.g., risk management combines several indicators of employee-level business continuity preparedness, attendance records for compliance training and a mash-up of similar goals).

Hierarchical roll-ups get calculated for every individual all the way up to the CIO and get grouped in ways that the company is used to being organized. The CIO makes it a point to review the dashboard regularly with her directs, holding senior leaders accountable for their groups.

Given the dashboard's navigational hierarchies, the CIO's direct reports review the very same visualizations with their directs just as regularly. And so it goes all the way down to the front lines.

Everyone's information is made open to everyone else. And the dashboards provide legends with complete transparency into how the bundles of metrics are calculated.

I have used these dashboards before and they create an appropriately competitive environment around the company's core values. People at every level of the org begin to compete with their peers on the kind of positive behavior that counts.

Culture change, Brandeis-style.

5. Let's bring in a smart data guy.

I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed the business-priority head-fake couched as "let's hire a smart ______ guy." Fill in the blank with whatever that senior business person got whispered to by an important client or got inspired by at the last conference he attended: data, metrics, culture, whatever.

"Bringing in a guy" is the clearest signal that "the change" -- whatever it is -- isn't important enough to the company to re-prioritize what the best internal people are working on. And don't believe the rationalization that the existing stars don't have the right experience. It never stopped them before. Hell, that's why they're the stars.

There are lots of reasons BI or data or more ambitiously a data-driven culture should be spearheaded by an established internal star. More likely than not, the star:

-- knows all the appropriate players, internally and externally.

-- understands the elasticity of the existing culture.

-- has a rich history with the place (i.e., knows where the bodies are buried).

In other words, stars understand your business context. And I can't think of anything more important when bringing about transformational change, with anything your business aspires to do well.

You're not special.

When it comes to BI and most other technology spends, there will always be the temptation to think of your business clients as infallible and your business problems as the exception. They're not and they're not.

If you're a BI vendor whose primary revenue comes from tools/platforms/licensing, reframe your offerings to focus on building data competencies.

If you're the business user, highlight the vanity of tech spending that makes it easier/faster/cheaper to do something that your organization doesn't have the skills to do harder/slower/expensively.

And conversely, if you're in internal IT, know that unless you accelerate the build-out of the requisite business skills for better technology adoption, you will not clear the path for cost-effective tech consumption. That's a fancy way of saying you'll fail.

And all the fancy talk aside, for goodness sake get us out of the restaurant business: Speak truth to the customer.