Jun 10, 2012

How to succeed with BI Strategies

Have you ever been in an IT implementation that states they have a ‘BI Center of Excellence’ and if you lift the carpet its nothing to do with any form of COE.
Have you been in a corporation where they have business strategies stuck on the walls, some having the customer at the top, others their shareholders and others their employees, but all it remains is simply stuck on the wall, with no analytics to back or track the global strategy.
Have you ever been in a situation where everyone agrees there must be a solid BI strategy and it somehow either gets drowned in tactical fire-fighting, the customer feels they have a strategy but when you ask for it they all look at each other, or it simply never seems to happen?
We have all probably been in some of these situations and some of us in all within the same company.
Think of this actual business case.
A US mega corporation/ with a number of different product areas, global geographic locations, and service offerings / was trying to figure out how to improve their various reporting applications for 80% of their global analytics. Some critical data-loads were taking 20 hours to run and some queries taking over 500 seconds. After extensive planning they started with reallocating their IT resources, they reassigned each IT lead to another within the organization as a method of cross-pollination. Then the senior executives decided to spend eight weeks with a BI Solution Architect and a team of 3 developers to define their BI strategy roadmap, by interviewing their most prominent executives, and hand them a report on why business did not have consistent reports and why their BI was always behind business expectations.
The project was called ‘Global BI Health check’. What they failed to realize was that [1] many of their business executives and key stakeholders just did not have time to talk to the health-check team – even for an hour in the eight weeks allocated to define the truth. These business leaders choose to appoint a ‘big-three’ resident consultancy to represent them in their business discussions; [2]  Daily the company was going through severity 1 issues in their IT landscape and each time the team went to the IT leadership they were immediately diverted to solving today’s critical issue by order. One of the reasons for the health-check was to define how to make Sev-1 issues a once a month type issues. Thus diluting the efficiency of the prime task of the team; [3] The few business participants allocated either were not the right people or did not have the experience or the authority to take strategic decisions. When pushed the business stakeholders simply looked around for who was available and assigned them to the task.; [4] The ‘big-three’ partner convinced the key stakeholders, over whom they had great influence that their solution was not in revisiting the current state but in investing in newer technologies.
So while everyone had decided as a group that they needed a detailed change, very little actually was achieved or changed. The interesting thing about this business case, and many others like it, is that no one in the organizational hierarchy too accountability for the impacts due to the lack of a strategic goal, vision or execution, which clearly defines that Planning and execution are interconnected- Execution of any plan takes time and involves key stakeholders to participate actively and that effective execution requires direct business ownership and accountability. One way of looking at this is that while all the executives felt that it was necessary to get a clear sight of ‘A’, i.e. our current state, while defining the future state ‘B’ desired business state in the future- the operational staff was either not aligned to the executive beliefs or had no perceived benefit in aligning their day to day assignments towards the executive ordinance. The other reasons could also be a lack of executive commitment to make this a mandatory requirement in order to align all tactical developments to a common strategic goal. Whichever way we look at this example it was a collective failure.
At more than one customer when we ask key stakeholders two simple questions: How important do you think a global BI strategy is towards enhancing strategic data-quality and increasing information quality?; and Do you think your company should invest ten to sixteen weeks in a workshop to define points ‘A’ and ‘B’? In almost every case we get an overwhelming 90% plus agree that a global BI strategy is critical to information quality and global harmonization of data. At the same time more than 50% of the respondents doubted that the other really got it. To my lay persons mind this simply reads “I fully get this and think this is critical, but I don’t think the others in the room really get the importance of this requirement”.
When computed collectively this just does not make any sense. How can 90% of the people agree to a concept and in the same breath state that 50% of the people will not possibly agree to it.
Here is what I think could be the reason behind this:

Group agreement- personal disagreement: It is virtually impossible to have everyone in any organization to agree to anything, especially if is deals with strategic shifts that impact their day to day jobs and the world they are finally getting familiar in. On one side if a company culture does not encourage resistance, challenges or dissent then it will surely go down. However, there are times when a democratic leader has to stake their vision and take a certain amount of authoritative decision when they feel further discussions could go on endlessly and that the proposal needs a fair chance to succeed – thus giving their full support and commitment for it to succeed. While there are grey areas where one would not recommend an executive to put their jobs on a limb there are others that should be evidently clear to any executive to put their commitment to a program. For example [1] Only actual business stakeholders must participate in the strategy workshops; [2] All strategies need to clearly define ‘A’ and ‘B’ before it can define a path towards ‘B’, also known as a Fit-Gap process; [3] There must be global standards and processes in an enterprise to avoid subjective developments’ [4] Where automation is available it must be leveraged as a standard process if it is proven to be better than the manual process being currently used, etc.. These are fundamental qualities that should resonate with any executive. Disagreements can be based on logic, familiarity with current state or unfamiliarity with a proposed future state, loss of power, political alliances, etc. A successful strategy deployment is like a national presidential election. People should be allowed to voice their dissent in the workshops and one the new path has been defined they must all stand behind and work for its success. We need to avoid situations where player either simply stand in the bylines not willing to help or do everything in their power to ensure it does not succeed.

The boss is always right: and if he is wrong look at the heading again. We have for many years been grilled on this concept and in most organization being nice and a part of the group seems to become more critical than being right. In some cultures teamwork often means conforming to the mindset of the team and often the boss. In such cultures great ideas often sink to the bottom when participants are either discouraged from fully engaging or their own fear of being ostracized. Again in our case the key executives did not want to push too hard on the IT director for fear things would be allowed to become far worse in the Sev-1 situation if they demanded time from their subordinates, or the fear of damaging internal protocol relationships.

Lack of persistent to—down ownership: If the success of any global strategy is participation then if requires a number of actual business stakeholders to contribute towards it development. To make any program a success the senior leader needs to get all the players on board. Without this explicit agreement , which often has to be reinforced consistently and continuously, most people will hesitate to get out of their daily comfort zones in order to participate in a long term program, while continuing to give a semblance of support without direct accountabilities or ownership involved. Most strategy projects fail due to assumptions and one of them is that all the required pieces will automatically fall into place.

The singularity approach: Most strategies must have a singular goal – to align themselves to the business goals. Whether the strategy is logistics, sales, finance or business intelligence it must all align to a business goal. If the business goal is to to be the best information provider in the industry in five years and the tactical developments continue on a path of subjective developments without any standards or processes then the two will never converge. A lot of BI strategies are either not worth the paper they may be written on, or once written gather dust in some cupboard, or are totally technocal and have nothing to do with business. The first step of any strategy is business alignment and then the rest will fall into place.
While all this seems fairly logical it is not easy to install as true strategic initiatives often involve change and most humans are rooted to long standing cultural patterns that fight change. A good start is to start a discussion, point them in the general direction and provoke challenges and discussions. Let the process take its own life till it stabilizes into something that aligns with the global enterprise needs. One way is to demonstrate why strategic alignment will mean success for the individual, groups and the enterprise because most of us are wired to not be part of a failure – so holding up a mirror and looking at it honestly may be the most powerful way of helping managers and executives clearly see point ‘A’ and analyze whether they are individually and collectively headed in the wrong direction. The most critical step is clearly defining ‘A’

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