Users Now Run BI (Get Over It, IT Pros)

Business intelligence software is no longer the exclusive province of the IT department.
The shift has been coming for at least five years, but it is now official. The majority of business intelligence projects implemented and deployed in the past two years were done outside of the IT department, according to a report by Howard Dresner, of Dresner Advisory Services.

The former Gartner "Research Fellow" and father of the term business intelligence says only 49% of these new projects were done under the auspices of the IT department. Finance, sales and marketing, HR and other departments are now in charge.

"IT, especially in North America, is not in the driver's seat," Dresner told me in an interview shortly before the release of the report, called The Wisdom of Crowds--Business Intelligence Market Study, 2011.

"The inmates have taken over the asylum and there's no going back," he said.

Dresner's global survey of more than 600 individuals found that the overall proportion of BI projects launched by the finance and sales and marketing departments is relatively stable (see table). The bulk of the new user-driven BI thrust is coming from other departments -- executive management, human resources, operations and R&D.

Percentage of Business Intelligence projects deployed by department, by number of years since launch:

business intelligence projects

The rise in user-driven BI implementations is due to several factors, in my view. More and more middle managers, department managers and others in large companies outside of the IT department are not intimidated by business intelligence and analytics tools.

Most important, though, are new generations of tools which are lower in cost and considered easy to implement and use by an end-user department without IT support. This new generation of tools has been especially attractive to companies with less than $500 million in annual revenues.

"Most of the small and mid-sized companies using BI are gravitating toward the emerging vendors," Dresner explains. "Users have more solutions available, so they are exploiting them." In addition, the end user departments have the cash.

While some of the tools from the emerging vendors are "lightweight" relative to the deep functionalities included in huge suites from SAP Business Objects, Oracle, or IBM, they provide enough capabilities for many tasks. "These tools are typically targeted at the end users," Dresner adds.

Dresner includes the following companies as examples of the emerging BI vendor category:

Dimensional Insight


Spotfire (Tibco)





Good Data

For an initial analysis of some of these companies, check out this Business Intelligence Software Scorecard, which includes background information.

Despite the consolidation of the leading BI vendors over the past five years, the end user deployment spree means that the number of BI tools in use by large companies continues to grow. Dresner predicts the tool count will continue to increase despite more vendor or corporate consolidation efforts.

The continuing proliferation will include many deployments that have bedeviled CEOs, CFOs and CIOs for years. The multiplicity of tools leads to a multiplicity of versions of the truth. Instead of everyone having one answer to simple questions like how many customers buy X or what is the profitability of the Cleveland office, there are multiple answers –– depending on who is using which tool.

Dresner advises the IT department and its professionals to radically change their attitudes to deal with new reality. For the IT department, the key is to provide a common BI infrastructure, especially a common data warehouse. And all the data in that warehouse has to be based on one set of data definitions. "Users need a common infrastructure, including semantics, to get stuff done," Dresner notes.

In addition to providing that common infrastructure, the IT department should work to be a partner with the user departments. I'm sure you've heard that one before, but not enough practitioners are walking the walk. Providing end users an easily accessible BI infrastructure makes the IT department into an enabler, not a barrier.

As Dresner notes, "IT can be catalyst and enabler, but if it is intent on becoming an obstacle, it will be short lived."

In other words, if you refuse to build bridges to the BI users and ignore their needs, your career as a BI implementer will be limited.

Tags: business intelligence, BI software, business intelligence software, Enterprise IT, BI

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