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Too many users fending for themselves on BI

Reg Workshop roundup

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Reg Reader Workshop Recent feedback gathered through reader surveys and workshops tells us that the need for direct information access by end users is increasing. Around one in five organisations already view business intelligence as something that is relevant to a broad audience rather than just a select few senior managers, analysts and other power users. Beyond this, a further 52% see the need for such broader access, even though they might not have got there yet (view chart).

The question is how much organisations are prepared to meet such evolving demands.

We gained some insights into this from gathering views and experiences in relation to power users, i.e. the individuals which, while still a minority in most organisations, potentially give us a taste of things to come on a broader basis as the “tech savviness” of users in general increases and it becomes ever easier to obtain and use personal productivity tools to access and manipulate data.

Perhaps the most significant observation from all this is the clear disjoint in many organisations between the IT department and power users trying to gain access to the information they feel they need to do their jobs (see here). On the one hand, users complain about IT departments not really delivering the solutions they need or even supporting them as they try to fend for themselves. On the other hand, IT departments are concerned about risks associated with direct access to information and subsequent off-line manipulation, and, ironically, the support burden represented by users trying to navigate their way around systems as they seek out the data they require.

Some IT departments, particularly those in larger organisations, take a defensive approach to dealing with the problem. This may take the form of trying to lock users out of direct access to some systems or limiting the systems resources available to them to run queries, reports and so on (view chart). While such measures have a place to ensure security and to avoid performance issues and quality of service disruption caused by rogue or runaway queries, the importance of more positive measures is also highlighted.

In particular, around a quarter of the organisations with more than 250 employees that gave us feedback said it was standard practice to have liaison people in place within business units to bridge the gap between IT considerations and business requirements for information access. Those in such a liaison role can educate users on safe and effective practices, provide more reactive and immediate local support where required, and feed back requirements, concerns and ideas for improvement in a much more coordinated and efficient way to IT.

The liaison idea appears to work. Beyond those that have already fully embraced it, organisations that have tried it in a limited way say they need to move more in this direction, and many more acknowledge it as being a good idea for the future (view chart). There is still a long way to go, however, before such best practices become genuinely widespread – the good intentions are clear, but they need to be acted upon.

Another area in which we see lots of good intentions but limited activity is in the proactive assessment of information access requirements beyond prescriptive reporting then making sure users have the tools and data that match their business needs. Only a quarter do this consistently as standard, about the same number do it in a limited way but know they need to do more, and a further third know it is something they should be doing but aren’t at the moment (view chart). It doesn’t take much working out from this that the majority of end users out there with information access requirements are largely left to fend for themselves when it comes to identifying and acquiring the tools and techniques they need to solve their business intelligence requirements. No wonder then that the disjoint we highlighted at the beginning is so prominent.

The overriding lesson here is for IT departments who are not taking the requirements of today’s power users that seriously to start doing so. With broadening demand and the evolution of capabilities such as user-configurable portals, mash-ups, embedded analytical capability in office tools, packaged applications, etc, the user community’s thirst for information and their expectations of IT to help quench it will be a significant factor in IT service delivery into the future.

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Click here to view a webcast discussion of the results from the recent Reg Reader business intelligence study, including Microsoft's view of the state play.

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