Big Data Fail: Five Principles to Save Your BI Butt

Big data. Magical business analytics. Such topics are all the rage these days.

I hate to be the one pointing out the fact that the emperor has no clothes (well, not really, I kinda like that role actually). But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of big data and magical business analytics projects fail. Not in a great big system-won’t-work way, but in a more insidious and hidden way. They fail because the users don’t use them.

Yup. That’s the truth. Much of the great promise of business intelligence (BI) goes unrealized because decision makers aren’t using the decision support systems in any meaningful way. Yes, I know there are a few wonderful examples that get all the press. But the vast majority of big data and business analytics projects implemented by normal companies suffer from chronic underuse.

This has been my personal experience from working in the field for more than 20 years and seeing it firsthand. I also hear it from colleagues and clients all over the world. Think I’m especially unlucky? Try reading through the data warehousing and analytics forums on LinkedIn and elsewhere. It’s a rampant problem. With some variation depending on the situation, the litany of complaints goes like this:

  • “The system doesn’t tell me what I need to know.”

  • I can’t quite reconcile the numbers to what I used to get from Sue.”

  • “I just want the data in Excel.”

  • “I don’t have time to learn to use a big analytics system, I just want a report.”

  • “I don’t want a fixed report, I want more ad-hoc freedom.”

  • “I don’t want to use an ad-hoc tool, I just want the answers to my questions.”

  • “Can’t you just do it for me?”

Sound familiar?

When the truth about the lack of business use slowly emerges, usually some six to nine months after your multi-million dollar business intelligence initiative goes live, CIOs and business leaders turn to the IT group and demand: “How could you let this happen? What went wrong?”

A bit unsure themselves of just why things are the way they are, despite the fact that they believe they did everything right, the IT team immediately launches its barrage of anti-business missiles:

  • “The users signed off on everything. They got what they asked for.”

  • “Of course they don’t use the system; they aren’t willing to learn how to use it.”

  • “The users change their minds every time we see them.”

  • “It’s not the system that’s the problem, it’s missing the data that they want.”

  • “The users were never behind the effort in the first place. They just went along with it because it was a corporate effort.”

And off we go to the business-IT boxing ring, where everybody ends up bloody and hurting. Not to mention the ill will that is stored up for the next “joint” project.

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