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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Boosting Business Acceptance

This is the title of an article by Bob Becker (Intelligent Enterprise, August 2004) aimed at the DataWarehouse/BusinessIntelligence community.

One of the more troubling DW/BI maladies is the business acceptance disorder. In layperson's terms, the business community isn't using the DW/BI environment — it's just not a critical component of the business decision-making process. Frankly, this is a frightening diagnosis for project teams. It's impossible to declare DW/BI success if no one in the business has embraced the results of your hard work and best intentions.

The article focuses on alignment between business requirements and technical solution, and gives a lot of very basic advice about getting feedback from users: find out what they think.

Nothing wrong with his advice of course; I guess most IT professionals know this stuff (although they may not always practise it consistently).

But feedback of this kind suggests a first order learning process: the business community has some decision-making practices, and the target for DW/BI solutions is to support these practices more effectively. The feedback recommended by Bob enables the IT requirements to be refined and extended, but don't directly address the decision-making practices and their organizational context.

Decision-making is an important aspect of management activity. It is has an economic value that depends on several variables, including significance, scope, complexity, uncertainty and time-horizon (higher paid managers typically engaging with higher-value decisions.) Many decisions are taken collaboratively, involving complex social interaction between decision-makers.

If you want a business organization to accept and assimilate meaningful changes in the DW/BI platform, you have to think about meaningful changes in the organization itself. Roles and responsibilities may have to be realigned. Managers need to learn new capabilities – not just learning to operate the DW/BI systems, but learning to ask more complex questions, interpreting the answers, and integrating this into how they run the business. In general, IT systems may be used to produce a range of effects on the business organization (for example, affecting the visibility of some business processes, or altering the communication/delegation between different locations). But of course these effects are produced not by IT systems alone, but by the socio-technical systems into which IT is embedded. It's the people.

IT practitioners often see people first as a source of requirements, then as a source of resistance. "We gave them what they asked for, dammit, now let's force them to use it."

Business acceptance is all about making effective and appropriate changes to these socio-technical systems. (This means users experimenting, adopting and learning, not being coerced.) Designing the technical pieces may be important, but what is more important is giving the users good opportunities to discover better ways of doing their jobs. Thereby enabling the organization to deploy the intelligence of the people together with the intelligence of the tools, to achieve measurable improvements in organizational intelligence. This is a change management challenge that goes way beyond simple feedback.

1 comment:

  1. I like to remind people that decision-making is also a political exercise in the corporate governance process. Too often, IT solutions tend to smother the fact that a technology solution is going to dis-empower one political faction in favor of another.

    I think people in corporations are addicted to the "flying by the seat of the pants" mentality. I know from experience that they will discount sound research in favor of personal preferences or worse, anecdotal this vein, we have allowed personal/professional experiences (re: prejudices) to cloud decision-making processes.

    Why is this? They trust their own instincts instead of having to select an objective standard!

    I am convinced these people like to believe that out of the box solutions are doomed to fail because of the "it wasn't invented here" mindset. This is just crazy, because they also have the mindset of "let's not reinvent the wheel." In conjunction with each other, these two mindset effective hook them on the horns of a dilemma.

    The only way out of this trap is to pick an absolute standard and use it for guiding and making decisions going forward. I mean even in a relational database there is a primary key that makes all other data processing work possible. If groups could gasp that concept, then decision-making tools would gain wider acceptance. Sadly, so many organizations are not there, yet

    Great Optimism,