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Where business intelligence project planning goes wrong

Maintaining a successful BI strategy isn’t always smooth sailing. The best way to avoid big mistakes is to know where others have gone wrong.

There are a number of complex reasons why business intelligence (BI) projects go wrong or fail entirely, the first being planning. Too often, someone in a company becomes excited about BI and implements a solution, only to realize that nobody wants to use it or it doesn’t meet the organization’s needs.

In order to succeed, a business intelligence project needs:

  • executive buy-in
  • buy-in from the business in general – after all, they will have to train themselves on the system and be willing to adjust their decision-making process
  • solid planning of the underlying technologies to ensure the final solution actually caters to the needs of the business

The RACT test is designed to evaluate whether a BI solution is going to be accepted. Is the solution relevant, accurate, consistent, and timely? If not, you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Data quality with business intelligence is also an issue. A BI system draws data from all over your business and connects it. If some of that data is bad, then the conclusions drawn from the BI system will also be bad – garbage in, garbage out. Bad data should always be filtered out. In fact, plan for that as part of the data warehouse extract, transform, and load (ETL) operations.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a business intelligence system is all about pretty dashboards and scorecards. While those are useful components of a BI system, they don’t provide real meat that detailed decisions are made from. Also, dashboards need careful planning in order to show consistent, reliable and factual data; otherwise they’re useless.

Another primary cause of business intelligence project failure is lack of user training. Simply installing SQL Server, having a consultant design a data warehouse, and throwing copies of Microsoft Excel and PowerPivot at your users is not enough. It is essential to explain the value of business intelligence and demonstrate how to use the system. Users will usually ask for changes once a BI system is in place, so it is important to have a plan ready up front to accept those alterations, review them, and begin to implement good ideas. Remember, your business is not static, so your BI system can’t be either.

So what can you do to help ensure a successful business intelligence project?

  • Use consultants. They come at a price, but you’ll save money in the long run by eliminating reassessment and repetition.
  • Get potential BI users to agree that a business intelligence solution will be useful. If they’re dreaming up their own questions in regards to a BI system, they’re on the right path. Don’t mandate business intelligence; nurture it.
  • Plan, plan, plan. This is another place where an experienced consultant can help. They’ll be better at running a planning process just long enough, without turning it into an endless “requirement gathering” phase.

Find more BI basics from Don Jones and other technical experts by visiting our Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Tips page.

Don Jones is a co-founder of Concentrated Technology LLC, the author of more than 30 IT books and a speaker at technical conferences worldwide. Contact him through his website at

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