Channeling the cynicism of BI practitioners

Under-appreciated BI practitioners resort to cynical comments that aren’t helpful or career-enhancing. Before you find yourself in a situation where you’ll be tempted to make some sarcastic, relationship-killing remark, bite your tongue and review the list of diplomatically crafted strategies below that will enhance your reputation and your career.

Executive Excel fixation

It’s frustrating when executives refuse to learn any Business Intelligence (BI) software package other than Excel. Often they are not even aware of the advantages of the available BI software packages. Giving a speech about the hazards and shortcomings of Excel will not enhance your standing among these executives.

If this Excel issue exists in your company, as it does in many, first ask yourself, with brutal honesty, if your team is delivering robust, easy-to-use BI applications or just BI tools for end-users to wrestle with. Well-developed BI applications:

  1. Require only point and click interactions from end-users.
  2. Contain many templates any executive can quickly turn into powerful analytics by supplying only a few parameters.
  3. Keep all data integration and application operations tasks hidden invisibly behind the scenes.

BI tools, on the other hand require:

  1. Knowledge of the underlying data structures.
  2. Occasional use of command strings.
  3. Some expertise as a statistician.
  4. Knowledge of when the most recent data warehouse refreshes occurred.

Rather than being critical of your executives, a better strategy is to listen carefully and view whatever they’re creating with Excel as new business requirements for the BI application. You can translate these requirements into stunning visualizations that will enhance your reputation. Also, review whatever you’ve built so far with a view to making it look and behave more like a BI application and less like a BI tool. As your BI application becomes easier to use, its value and yours will be more widely appreciated.

Requirements muddle

It’s painful when business people stumble around trying to describe the data they need and how they want it visualized. They will change their minds as soon as you’ve delivered whatever they asked for. If this summarizes how you view your current development environment, your attitude needs a major adjustment.

First, no one can brilliantly and comprehensively describe their requirements in the way that IS staff prefer to have requirements explained. To expect otherwise is incredibly arrogant.

Secondly, superior BI software packages support rapid, low effort, high productivity development that can quickly identify and correct requirements shortcoming through successive prototypes. If you’re complaining about having to build five to seven improved visualizations in as many days, then perhaps you need to think about a career change because these advanced BI software packages are making your job easier than it’s ever been in the history of computing.

Assuming you’ve recognized the error of your ways and haven’t moved to an organic carrot farm in the Okanagan valley, consider proceeding with this strategy:

  1. View yourself more as a consultant who is collaborating with end-users to design the next generation of breakthrough analytics and not as a technician responding unthinkingly to sketchy requirements.
  2. Recognize that the analytics vision end-users have in their heads is incomplete and perhaps flawed and will need to evolve and improve through your inspired suggestions. You will of course be astute enough to avoiding pointing out the gaps in vision.

After this personal adjustment, your visualization work will be held up as an example of the collaboration the company aspires to experience more often and your career will flourish.

Business case gridlock

Project teams frequently struggle to build enticing business cases for BI investments. Business cases that are incredible and therefore unbelievable or modest and therefore boring, struggle to attract funding. Gridlock ensues. The enthusiasm and creativity of BI practitioners turns into cynicism because the company somehow can’t see the immediate and profitable opportunity they’re seeing.

The problem is that building a BI application is often a journey of discovery. Sadly, the word “discovery” is often translated to mean distracting boondoggle by funding executives. The reality is that the details of where the big win and the little wins will actually be found is unknowable at the beginning of the BI project.

Rather than become stuck in business case gridlock, a better strategy is to ask only for a modest amount of money, often below $100,000, to identify BI opportunities to address a short list of business issues. This strategy is often successful because it:

  1. Avoids a debate about the merits of a business case.
  2. Aligns project goals with business issues
  3. Makes no references to any technology or solutions.
  4. Contains expectations by focusing on opportunities and not claiming to deliver a production-quality system.
  5. Is asking only for a very small amount of money.

The prototype analytics that you will deliver with modest funding will point to innovative solutions for real business issues. You’ll be a hero for achieving so much with so little funding. Your request for significant funding for the production BI application will then be approved with ease.


What is your experience with strategies for counteracting the cynicism of BI practitioners at your company?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of Information Technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry to select and implement financial, production revenue accounting, land & contracts, and geotechnical systems. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, from the need to leverage technology opportunities and from mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy, and systems project management.

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