It has been said that the way to measure success of decision support systems or business intelligence programs is by determining their adoption rates(1). The idea is simple: success should be based on adherence to intended usage. Analytical solutions that end up being partially or completely dropped by the business are partial or complete failures, regardless of how sophisticated their engineering underpinnings.
Increasing adoption is an important reason why many software companies have recently been reinventing their analytical tools. Their approach commonly seeks to give business users access to capabilities traditionally exclusive to technology staff, which in turn should – in theory – increase tool adoption. Business Intelligence professionals have also altered their practices by adopting agile methodologies in the hopes of delivering analytical artifacts that are relevant and actionable to business users.
These changes have been welcomed by many decision makers, which is evidenced by healthy budget allocation to analytical programs.
At the same time, many Business Intelligence practitioners still commonly observe companies struggle to achieve success on their analytical initiatives. What could be the missing element?
I suggest the missing element is not directly addressing corporate culture.
Harvard Business Review has described a type of culture that is efficient and prone to achieve success: a “Learning Organization”, described as –
“[An] organization made up of employees skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge. These people could help their firms cultivate tolerance, foster open discussion, and think holistically and systemically. Such learning organizations would be able to adapt to the unpredictable more quickly than their competitors could.” (2)
In these organizations working with data is not limited to satisfying business reporting needs. Instead, data informs a wider process of data exploration and idea exchange that seeks to identify patterns with potential to create business value.
Think for a moment how “intelligent” a company like this can be. A company where ideas are factually checked, openly discussed and subsequently refined. A company where ideas can come from anywhere: front line employees that have local “know-how” to operation folks that directly interface with redundant and inefficient processes.
It is important to note that this kind of culture doesn’t naturally emerge in the vast majority of companies, due to factors ranging from rigid corporate structures to a natural resistance to change.
It is imperative, however, that Business Analytic leaders imprint in their vision a proactive approach beyond business reporting. The strategic nature of their role can influence a company’s culture decisions at a broader level. Using technical and process tools and methods, their role can help factual analysis, foster idea sharing and collaboration while providing individuals better visibility on the impact of their contributions and those of others.
One of the best tools to foster a Learning Organization is a properly structured Self Service Business Intelligence program. Many companies are starting initiatives around this concept. Unfortunately their sole existence does not guarantee the promotion of a collaborative culture. In fact, ill-conceived Self Service Analytic solutions may end up creating more isolation between business users and I.T.
Despite the risk, technology managers should consider a strategy that allow users to self-serve. When these initiatives are scoped within the framework of a ‘Culture of Analytics’, companies have the opportunity to track and leverage individual data discoveries and scale them out for the benefit or the larger organization, scoring points for both I.T. and the Business.
A guided, yet flexible approach that permits the evolution of an analytical layer that accepts contributions from multiple stakeholders can be truly transformational. Collaboration behaviors typical of Learning Organizations can then emerge more naturally.
It is useful in some cases to have a technology advisor that can assist you in creating a roadmap aiming at this cultural transformation. Contact us if you are interested in exploring Analytical road maps and methodologies that can create important and lasting business value.
(1) Wayne W. Eckerson, “Pervasive Business Intelligence: Systems Theory and Business Intelligence”. The Data Warehousing Institute
(2) David A. Garvin, Amy C . Edmonson, Francesca Gino, “Is Yours a Learning Organization?” Harvard Business Review, March 2008 http://hbr.org/2008/03/is-yours-a-learning-organization/ar/1