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Why don’t executives enthuse over their BI reporting systems? January 16, 2006

Posted by Cyril Brookes in General, Issues in building BI reporting systems.
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Here are some of my views as to why executives don’t enthuse over what should be their strongest ally – their window on the enterprise, BI.

  • Executives feel disconnected from the report specification process; they complain that the reports they are given do not match their needs and expectations. I find this is a common result of surveys, and is very much my experience. Given the expenditure on data warehousing, reporting software, consultants, etc., they should be “over the moon” with excitement and truly satisfied.
  • There is too much emphasis on hard data in BI reporting. Soft, or tacit, information is a vital extra resource; it is the key to understanding what the hard data means. I had a “career changing experience” in 1972. As “CIO” of a very large conglomerate, I proudly advised the CFO, Fred, that I could now give him accurate weekly P & L statements to replace his monthly (and late in the month) somewhat inaccurate ones. I felt sure this would be a real winner.Fred’s response: “Cyril, that’s great, but of no real practical use”. “Why” I reacted, extremely disappointed at the obvious lack of anticipated executive enthusiasm. “Because I need to receive at the same time as I get the hard data the profit center executives’ explanations, reasons and opinions about the data. Otherwise its useless to me” he replied. Of course, at that time, my corporate database had no such “soft or tacit” information.
  • Executives need high quality pre-specified but “on-demand” reporting. I believe that complexity of DW and the software tools militate against their formulating queries personally, certainly not when under pressure. I think that BI designers are “copping out” of their responsibilities by implying that executives should use data analysis tools instead of relying on pre-specified reports to meet routine needs, but with unpredictable timing requirements. For example, a senior VP or CEO will need a HR report every now and then, but will not want to build it from a database inquiry tool.

These three issues all focus attention on the requirements definition process. We need to know what we are building, before we build it. BI specification must become structured – ensuring both completeness utility. If executives don’t demand comprehensive, complete and innovative reporting, it will never occur. But they can’t “demand” if they don’t know, and can’t explicate, what they want.

In my next posting I’ll detail my assessment of red flags that warn of inadequate specification.
Thanks for reading.

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