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Former Member

Let’s face it... 2013 is here and the business intelligence world is rapidly transforming!

For business users, these changes mark a time of glory, as they now control the budget and direction of their BI deployments.

Less glamorous however, are the disruptions caused by these changes in the traditional IT structure.  As many IT (BI) Directors struggle to keep up with the demand of their business users, we have identified a few skillsets that every BI department should learn, adopt, or hire to succeed in the world of the ‘New BI’ as Howard Dresner termed it (see his article on the New Business Intelligence)

Being a former top tiered BI consultant, the founder of a very successful SAP BI Community, and a top rated global BI speaker and trainer, I’ve had many Senior Managers ask me, “So where do we start?” Below, I attempt to answer this question in hopes that readers will resolve to develop or hire these skillsets into their teams in 2013.  It’s critical to remaining relevant in the Business Intelligence industry.

      #1 Superior Communication Skills... no longer a NTH (nice to have)

This may sound cliché, but it’s a well-known fact that most BI developers are not exactly socialites.  While the lack of communication within IT used to be a minor issue, as BI changes from being IT to 100% business led, the need for BI developers to have superior communication skills is now a requirement.  In order to gain the attention and buy-in of their business users, now more than ever, BI developers must understand that they are in the marketing business. Per Gartner’s 2012 BI Report, ‘7 out 10 BI projects are deemed as failures!’ One of the main problems cited is the lack of communication. Some organizations try to overcome this problem by placing a business analyst layer to act as a liaison between the two parties. Unfortunately, this may become more of a shelter for IT, rather than an actual solution. To tackle this problem in 2013, first identify the strongest communicators in your team and put them at the forefront of every project, even if it means reducing their development tasks (trust me, if you don’t, the CFO will and then it will be too late). Second, send your entire team for a two-day course on communication, emphasizing how important it is for all projects regardless of one’s role in them.  You may also want to consider recommending and rewarding your team for taking online communication courses.  One book that changed my career and taught me how to communicate with business users is ‘Let’s get Real or Let’s not Play’ by Mahan Khalsa .. It’s a sales book that teaches you how to talk to your prospects and understand their EQ (emotional quotient). Buying a copy for each person on your team is also a good start!

#2 Think ‘Mobile First’ approach... or Don’t Build

Like it or not, the Iphone has changed the world and has had a huge impact on the Business Intelligence Industry.  Not only are business users expecting sexier reports/dashboards from their BI systems that resemble their apps, but they’ve raised the bar on their overall user experience thanks to Steve Jobs, the late founder and CEO of Apple, Inc.  Couple that with the need for real time data across multiple devices per user and IT is faced with a vast demand that their complex archaic systems simply cannot meet without a drastic change. To tackle this new need for compelling user interfaces that return data at lightning speed, I recommend taking baby steps. Start by setting up a ‘mobile first’ mentality in your team (as termed in 2011, by Steve Lucas, EVP of SAP Database and Technology).  Next, immediately identify your most critical and highly visible BI applications and start working with your internal marketing department, or hiring a design intern or professional graphics designer to help revamp its look and feel. Lastly, to ensure continuity, encourage and even fund a beginner app design course online for your entire team.  Just taking this step will be a major win with your business users and they will thank you!

#3 Deployments are either Rapid... or a Waste of Time

Reality Check! If the thought of waiting for 6+ months to deliver a BI application does not bother you, you probably won’t be in the business of BI or even IT much longer. Last year marked the end of long winded, overpriced and complex IT projects with no measurable ROI or value.  The reality is, if you cannot deliver visible results to your business users in the first 8-10 weeks of your BI project, they will simply find another way to do it. To overcome this growing epidemic of the new DOLAP “aka Desktop OLAPS”, as top SAP BI and HANA author, Dr. Bjarne Berg termed it, start by instilling a more Agile or SCRUM project approach to your team.  Create a mantra that rapid deployments are the only way projects will be delivered in 2013, then ask your team to create a list of reasons why they see it as impossible, and work with your stakeholders to lay out a plan and budget to overcome those obstacles. To gain team buy-in, create special teams internally to focus on overcoming those obstacles that were identified. Congruently, to expedite this form of thinking, consider hiring a professional AGILE or SCRUM project manager to work and train your team, with an end goal to certify your top communicators (refer to #1) and project leads.  After your third successful project, start to set expectations with your business users of having 100% transparency and a first delivery of 8 weeks, then watch your user engagement and adoption sky rocket!

#4 Make ‘User Adoption’ your ONLY KPI to Measure Success

It’s always amazing to see just how far removed BI teams are from the understanding that BI applications actually impact the business. This leads way to a very hands-off approach when focusing on ‘high user adoption’, which should be the only metric that matters in BI projects. Recent studies by TWDI and BIScorecard suggest that most BI deployments only experience a 24 -25% adoption rate. I teach that if all BI projects focused primarily on user adoption as their only KPI to measure success, the 7 out 10 failure rate amongst BI projects would decrease drastically. Why, you ask? If your team is focused on user adoption, it will force them to be in the shoes of the business users. Bottlenecks to user adoption like low performance, lack of mobile accessibility, uncompelling UIs, and inaccurate data would simply be deemed unacceptable for any project.  While there is very limited training on this particular topic, which involves more ‘soft skills’, having tracked the declining rate in user adoption over the last five years, I am truly on a mission to help BI teams change their frame of thinking. I invite you to join my online training series, the BI Dashboard Formula, which focuses on this topic and teaches you key strategies any BI team can incorporate to instantly increase their overall user adoption!

#5 Adopt Mobile, Cloud, and Big Data... they’re here to stay!

If you are still having issues digesting why user adoption is indeed your problem, when we add the words mobile, cloud, and big data to the mix, you may feel a bit overwhelmed. I’ve already covered mobile, but cloud and big data cannot be overlooked, as they are completely changing the BI self-service and BI value proposition.  The fact that most cloud BI service providers tout their ability to enable business users without the need for IT, should speak for itself.  To add to this, the topic of gaining new insights from big data poses a lot of challenges to BI teams who were not trained to think like data scientists. To gain a head start in 2013, start by emphasizing a need for your team to understand and follow these new trends. Try to set up internal discussions for individuals to share what they’ve learned on a regular basis. For instance, one very successful BI team we observed took the 10 most likely to be or already adopted BI tools in their organization (outside of their existing BI stack), and created a "show and tell day", where twice a month, a team member would present their findings and comparisons of one of the BI tools. A next good step is to consider hiring a data scientist (yes a PhD type) to help you brainstorm and develop ideas on what new insights can be gained by leveraging your big data.  While there is no easy approach this, we have found that by harboring an environment where awareness and constant evaluation is encouraged, business users are less likely to feel that your team’s knowledge and capability are outdated, resulting in greater trust and dependency. Remember, the worst thing you can tell a business user is that you’ve never used or heard of a tool they are recommending. It’s a shot to your team’s credibility that they may likely never recover from!

In 2013, BI teams not only have to keep up-to-date with the latest trends to remain relevant, but also learn how to quickly adapt these elements into their organizations to avoid losing their business users (customers), and eventually their role in the organization.

I invite you to comment on how you plan to approach these new required skills and which ones are priorities for your team in 2013 or join me on twitter to discuss @micoyuk.

** Update as of 1/18/2013 **

Dennis Howlett, a well known enterprise critic (@dahowlett) wrote a very interesting response blog on ZDNet. Click here to read the article.

I am drafting my response and it will be posted on 1/21/2013 as I agree with his points.  Being a finance guy he shares the 'instant gratification' sentiment of most business users, but I still have a slightly different view of where BI is going.

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