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More Than Pie Charts

Business intelligence is too important to be limited by outdated presentation and visualization.

Let's see, volumes of complex data, what do I use? Pie chart or Poly Surface? Hmm.

Who Drives Adoption?

When considering the introduction of new technology to address BI requirements, only the following four possible parties are involved:

  • Users. The users certainly have a vested interest in building a great BI solution to address their needs. They seem to want, if at all possible, the means to quickly assess their subject areas, identify insights, and immediately act on those insights.
  • IT. Your IT group is equally compelled to provide an effective BI environment. (For the purposes of this column, IT is synonymous with BI architects, solution strategists, project planners, designers, and anyone else from IT involved in selecting technology for the BI environment.) Of course, IT is also responsible for supporting the BI beast; and, therefore, is heavily influenced by concepts such as standardization. The notion of implementing new or non-standard technology often must be proven to be necessary for most IT shops.

  • Vendors. No one can argue that vendors have an interest in getting their technologies adopted into the BI environment. Vendors, however, do come with what is seen as a less-than-stellar reputation — all too often deserved. They will do and say things, right or wrong, misleading, misguided, or simply misinformed, to get the sale.
  • Executives. The executives of any company have much bigger issues to consider than which visualization technology is better for addressing user communities' requirements. Nevertheless, all too often executives are dragged into the debate.

With these four parties in mind, I see the following scenario played out over and over again.

IT has standardized on product(s) x. The users are convinced that product x won't do what they need. They've arrived at this conclusion through their own research and experience, or by being influenced by a vendor of a competing product. In either case, the users approach IT with their concerns. IT considers the issues but invariably wants to attempt to address the user requirements with product x, even if it's more cumbersome or not quite what the users want. Users then go to a vendor that sells product y, which does what they want. The vendor teams up with the users to prove the need for implementing product y.

Together, the users and vendors begin a relentless lobbying effort to convince IT that product y is the only way to go. If IT remains unconvinced, the issue is raised to the executive level. At this point, we may forgo logic because only politics will settle this issue now.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. We've all seen some variation of this scenario played out in our own organizations or projects. And it isn't flattering for IT, users, or vendors. The simple truth is that instead of having a proactive stance and procedure for adopting new technology, we've created an informal bureaucracy of red tape.

Leading The Way

Technology doesn't have to be the bottleneck to resolving business needs. From my perspective, we have great technology that can address a wide range of business requirements. So I have to ask the question, why is it that IT and user community adoption rates lag so far behind the available technology?

The visualization technology shown in this column provides gorgeous, elegant solutions that feed our human need for visualization. And yet, we struggle against the disturbing trend of lagging adoption — often at the hands of those whose responsibility it is to ensure the best-of-class technology is available for their user communities: IT.

One remedy to avoid the scenario I've described is to retain architects and designers with considerable depth and appreciation for the BI space. It is, after all, the architects and designers who must create a BI environment that delivers on the promise of BI: Actionable insight. Who better than these individuals to direct the adoption of leading, best-of-class, technology to support that environment? But if IT won't lead, then users and/or vendors will push.

But regardless of who leads, one thing is certain: If all you're providing your users is a pretty pie chart, you're not doing enough.

Michael L. Gonzales is the president of The Focus Group Ltd., a consulting firm specializing in data warehousing. He has written several books, including IBM Data Warehousing (Wiley, 2003). He speaks frequently at industry user conferences and conducts data warehouse courses internationally.<

Email the editors at [email protected]

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