4 min read

Despite Successes, BI Adoption Is Flat

More than a quarter of business intelligence projects are "very successful," but use of BI software is stuck at 25% of potential users.
If you believe some of the sensationalized headlines, business intelligence (BI) is a failure. Heck, you could probably blame the weak economy on BI! After all, with so much good data, how is it that we can still make so many bad decisions?

In reality, though, very few BI projects fail, according to the BI Scorecard 2011 Successful BI Survey. The survey was completed in June, and more than 600 BI users, directors, administrators, and consultants participated. Just over a quarter of respondents (26%) reported that their BI deployment is very successful, and in a separate question, 34% said their projects are making a "significant" business impact. The majority of BI projects, however, are stuck in the middle, not quite realizing the full potential of improved revenues, exceptional customer service, and increased operating efficiency.

On the bright side, success rates and impact have improved compared to the results reported in our 2009 survey. If I look at the challenges, though, adoption has been stubbornly flat at 25% of employees. That means that many business users who make decisions lack the tools to make them on facts, relying instead on static spreadmarts or gut feel. I thought for sure 2011 would be the break out year for pervasive BI, in part driven by more engaging, easier to use tools, lower costs, easier deployments, and of course, the iPad. I was wrong. Should I hold my breath for next year?

[ Want more on BI standards? Read Don't Let BI Standardization Lead To Stagnation. ]

More successful companies do report higher BI adoption rates, so maybe adoption is a lagging indicator. Companies continue to cite untapped potential, and BI spending shows signs of improvement. But one of the biggest challenges is in constrained resources. There is more demand for BI than IT can satisfy, yet IT is slow to transition from data gatekeeper to BI enabler. In some cases it's the business people who would rather fall back on the ease of a prebuilt report, ideally landing on their desk or in their email inbox. Old habits die slowly.

Companies that have given business users a bigger role in BI -- one more aligned with the goals of the business -- report a higher rate of success in BI contributing to business performance.

Among the myriad tools that help provide self-service BI, dashboards have shown the most rapid adoption, now ranked second (after business query) as the most successfully deployed BI module.

When BI Scorecard first starting surveying companies on how they manage their BI tool portfolio, only a few had a predominant BI technology standard. Today 69% of companies have BI standards, either across the enterprise (54%) or by department or line of business (15%). Standardization, though, should never be viewed as a one-size-fits-all approach. It's about managing those investments to lower support costs and keep people focused on deriving insights, not the fancy bells and whistles of BI.

A sizeable portion of customers plan to increase their spending with current BI standard vendors, and a majority plan to increase the number of users. However, this year's survey shows shifts in the vendors customers prefer to standardize on. The survey results also dispel the notion that up-and-coming vendors, like Tableau and QlikTech, are only for small and midsize businesses or departments of larger companies.

As with previous Successful BI surveys, this is not research that is vendor sponsored, so we ask detailed questions on tool usage and satisfaction with full objectivity. The table of contents and executive summary can be previewed here.

Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard , an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.