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Executives and IT staff often at odds over BI

Executives and their IT departments often approach business intelligence from two totally different mindsets. Two Gartner analysts offer advice for getting everyone on the same page and ensuring BI success.

BALTIMORE, Md. -- A duo of analysts from Stamford, Conn.-based researcher Gartner acted out the issues that sometimes serve as roadblocks to the adoption of effective business intelligence (BI) strategy.

Adopting the often-dueling roles of IT manager and executive business strategist, Gartner research directors Howard Dresner and Frank Buytendijk mocked the power struggle that often revolves around business intelligence strategy, even donning costumes to better make their point. The presentation was part of a keynote series kicking off the annual users conference of New York-based business intelligence applications vendor Information Builders Inc.

"What we're illustrating is the insidious condition that often remains an obstacle to achieving business intelligence," Dresner said. "Business users are looking for ROI and demanding speedy delivery. The BI paradox concept is founded in the idea that investment is fundamentally misaligned with the benefits of business intelligence."

The two analysts have developed their BI paradox theory to help organizations identify issues that may prevent them from getting the most of their efforts. It's a contradiction that attendees identified with.

"There's a lot of truth to what these guys are saying about IT and business leaders speaking a totally different language around BI," said Paul Humphrey, logistics strategy specialist at Johnson and Johnson Healthcare. "User groups don't understand the full potential of the technology and everyone is being pulled from both ends by their own needs."

The paradox itself is founded on three points: business users demand rapid return on investment (ROI), while IT managers tend to focus on long term infrastructure issues; business strategists view BI as a solution for a specific problem, while IT workers are more concerned with leveraging data and assets; and business executives look for a competitive advantage by driving strategy and selecting one-stop applications while IT thinkers shop for best-of-breed technologies.

In simpler terms, the argument can be reduced to IT vision versus questions of how expensive and how long to implement a BI application may be.

"Business and IT most likely won't ever speak the exact same language," said Gartner's Buytendijk. "But gaining a better understanding of where the other side is coming from will go a long way toward success."

According to the analysts, common scenarios that lead to BI failure include situations where users driving the strategy become too enamored with certain features and functionality or with the image of companies marketing the application. On the flip side, the analysts added that when IT managers try to slip their BI decisions under the radar of business leaders, the results could be equally disastrous.

As a solution, the Gartner experts recommend a tactical approach that involves both sides working to identify and address goals before investing in specific applications. They also advocate development of a detailed architecture roadmap with flexibility for issues of change built in from the start.

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