Friday, January 4

Who's better, business or IT

I recently consulted on a large government project where the project sponsor was the CIO. There were only two people above him before you step into the land of 'professional' politicians. This CIO was savvy, smart, and needed to build buy-in from multiple stakeholders (Chiefs of Police... a difficult breed comfortable with conflict) to make this $100M project a success. You may ask how one could not be successful with that kind of cash on the table... but it happens... a lot.

I can think of failed project examples. Specifically I'm thinking of 3 projects in the last 6 years done by large consulting firms (ie. the IBMs, EDS', Accenture's of the world), where failure cost tens of millions of dollars with little or no results. Much of this was your taxpayer money hard at work by the way.

So what makes an unsuccessful project?

Some potential culprits are: technology issues, budget constraints, timeline constraints, user adoption and leadership can contribute to failure. However, leadership stands out the most for me. A leader or project sponsor can make or break the project. They give direction, remove political roadblocks, manage the money... and significant issues escalate to them for final decision.

They have lots to answer for. However let's divide sponsors/leaders into two groups: IT and business. IT sponsors may be the CIO or IT department head. Business sponsors may be CEO, CFO, or VP of a line of business. BUT...

Who makes a better project sponsor and hence best to run a BI project?

(I'm pro-business for this open debate expecting you bloggers and readers out there to provide sharp contrasts and opinionated rebuttles... and support, of course. [Bell ding to begin the round.])

Let's begin with the fact that organizations typically don't have the CIO at the decision-making table - sad but true (oops, I'm pro-business). Okay don't you think this can hinder success if the IT sponsor does not have the backing of the CxO's office? You betcha. Because, let's remember, it's the business who holds the purse strings. And the golden rule is - those with the money, make the rules.

But even without making the rules, business knows what they want and need from BI - simply gather the user & information requirements and ensure IT makes the technology happen. The misconception that IT makes is "if we build it, they will come" -- the value would be so obvious users would clamor to use the BI system. Not true without the business showing IT what they want.

So is it obvious that business sponsors should lead BI projects, especially since BI is for the business? And where do CIO's think they can do a better job? (By the way, the police project I mention above is in progress, so I'll let you know how it goes for the CIO.)


Frustrated BI Technologist said...

"And where do CIO's think they can do a better job?"

When the CIO knows a damn much more about what the technology can bring to the business, than a marketing type...please accept, there ARE times when the CIO (who has been with the business long enough) is the best business analyst around...If you had said 'CTO' then I would agree

Tom Hudock said...

I would agree with you, Frustrated BI Technologist.

I should clarify that for purposes of controversial debate, I took the side of business sponsors.

However I have seen both IT and business sponsors be successful (and utterly fail too). CIO's with business experience can be very successful (as I think the CIO in my police story will be).


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Glen said...

I have built a successful career in the BI industry with the simple understanding that technology is serving buisness not the other way around. A possible exception might be buisnesses specific to IT.

CIO's should be involved into how a BI fits into an organization. Their involvement depends on the size and structure of the buisness.

For example it does not make sense to for a CIO of a large organization to lead a BI project for human resources, although they should have some involvement providing overall corporate IT direction.

Is the buisness interested in BI relating human recourses and revenue? A CIO is not in the correct position to be able to answer that question unless they are leading the organization.

Roman R. said...

I would say that the first step to the answer is to realize that IT is just 20% of the BI solution. The rest are processes, competencies and motivations of potential users etc. see more e.g. at Therefore nothing what IT can affected directly.

Questions to think about:

1.) Does it make sense to e.g. predict a churn if the main reason why customers leave is that the company doesn't keep promises and doesn't want to change it?

2.)How many BI specialists do REALLY use the BI solution to manage their activities, professional or personal?

Roman R.

P.S. It doesn't say that CIO cannot drive successful BI project. It say that only CIO having the facts above in mind can successful BI project.