Tuesday, July 31

Wake up call for Air Canada

How many times do you need to hear something before it sinks in and you take action. When people ask for it - respond. Air Canada did, partially. As a decentralized organization using Excel spreadsheets for reporting, you can imagine how effective they were back in 2002. However their initial challenge wasn't building a BI centre of excellence, envisioning a one shared truth, or a well-thought-out technical architecture.

It was making BI easy and useful for the novice user (rather than just the power-users).

Briony Smith wrote an article in IT World Canada about Air Canada using IBI WebFocus because of the cheaper price point, high usability, and visualization tools.

But this is not about tools. Less than 20% of people in an organization use BI. Why could that be. Take away the bad implementations, insufficient toolset functionality, and untrained developers & project mgrs. What you're left with is approach and understanding the business problem.

Briony's article speaks of business intelligence competency centres as a way to bring together IT and business people to "break down the walls". Air Canada resisted this centralized approach (and I think missing out on improved collaboration and communication).

So many times have I seen projects boil down to technology, architecture and design. Important yes. Technologist focused yes. Incomplete picture yes.

The C-level execs are taking back control of IT decisions. You can see this with more and more IT professionals being left out of the decision-making loop. This makes delivering successful BI projects a challenge, no? Creating a competency centre (i.e. committee) in and of itself doesn't make a success.

IT professionals are left out of decisions because the needs of the business are not being met from IT projects. Having IT at a decision-making meeting is perceived as having little value. Knowing architecture, dimensions and toolsets is not big value to the final decision.

So here are 3.5 ways to add value and get invited back into that meeting:

    1. Be more than just technologists. I'm not saying go out and get an MBA, but at least speak their language. Save the tech talk for your friends. Slowly changing dimensions really don't matter.

    2. Provide value by meeting business people's needs. BI is for the business, first and foremost. Understand their business problems from their perspective - not the vendors.

    3. Solve their business problems with an easy to use result. They shouldn't need the same toolset training as you have to extract the results they need.

    3.5. Make decisions based on what's best for the organization and employees. The vendor your friend works for is probably not the best choice.

As a side note, Westjet (Air Canada's main competitor for readers outside of Canada) has a large BI centre and also moved away from a plethora of Excel spreadsheets. The approach Westjet took was taking the BI technologists around to watch employees interact with customers and do their jobs with Excel. Hands-on requirements gathering.

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