Why BI is Broken and 3 Ways to Fix It
Josh James
Founder, CEO & Chairman of the Board

One of my biggest frustrations as CEO of a public company — and one of the principle reasons I started Domo — was how hard it was (ok, impossible) to get all the data I needed when I needed it. In fact, it was usually easier to know what was going on outside the company than it was to really know what was happening on the inside. We were the best in the business at web analytics and I could check my stock price whenever I wanted, but ask me how many employees we had or what our cash balance was and it took two or three days.

Turns out, I wasn’t alone in feeling that our business intelligence was lacking. Not by a long shot. And if you listen to Gartner, it sounds even worse: 70 to 80 percent of business intelligence projects ultimately fail.

Now, that stat obviously falls in the “grain of salt” category. Do 80 percent of BI projects really implode, causing big financial losses and a rash of firings? Probably not.

Surely that failure rate has something to do with high expectations and aggressive timelines. But still, it illustrates an important fact: Whether grounded in reality or not, there is a prevailing perception that traditional BI is broken. Why that is depends on who you ask. But I’d like to suggest three leading reasons why business intelligence is broken, as well as three ways to fix it.

While I’m more of a Jay-Z/Kanye West man myself, I’m going to channel a little Mick Jagger to help me highlight the issues. Nobody sings about wanting more, getting less or riding clouds quite like the Stones.

Problem #1: Can’t get no satisfaction. Unless you’re a data analyst or an Excel geek, you’re probably not getting much satisfaction — or value — from your BI system. The user experience in most business intelligence solutions is lacking, to say the least, relying heavily on tables and text or a patchwork of disconnected charts and graphs. And don’t even get me started on the timeliness of most of that data. Regularly scheduled reports are great for regularly scheduled meetings (which I hate and never do by the way), but like most executives, I don’t have a 9-to-5 schedule. And when the inspiration comes, it comes. If I have a flash of insight and want to see our latest sales numbers at 3 a.m., don’t make me wake up my sales VP to get that information. Which I have done. Just last week.

The Fix: Make the experience more engaging. Think of it this way: the data doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do with the data. This means putting intuitive, timely, self-service tools and dashboards in the hands of business leaders. It’s time for BI implementations to stop relying on dull, uninspired pivot tables and start presenting data in compelling visuals that are easy to understand, delivered in real time and loaded with insight.

Problem #2: You can’t always get what you want. Too many organizations define BI success according to the amount of information they can stuff into one data warehouse. But the reality is that no company will ever get 100 percent of relevant data in a single box. In fact, an executive at one Fortune 50 company, with whom I was recently talking, said his company was more advanced than anyone in business intelligence, and they had practically every BI system available. Yet despite all that investment, only 85 percent of the data they wanted was housed within their data warehouse. The single box model just doesn’t work. Business moves too quickly and markets change too often to capture it all.

The Fix: Aggregate, don’t migrate. Given: there will always be critical data that doesn’t make it into the central warehouse. Rather than force the migration of data into a single bottomless pit, it’s time for companies to embrace solutions that can seamlessly provide a window into various information sources, without actually moving or copying the data.

Problem #3: Get off of your cloud. Or I should say, find a better cloud. Cloud-based business intelligence is loaded with promise and has the potential to deliver lower-cost solutions that are more accessible, especially for business users. But in almost every case, today’s cloud solutions want to force customers into their own flavor of vanilla. It’s kind of like waiting in the lunch line. You start to get a little excited when you think about all the choices and what you might pick. But when you get to the front of the line, the lunch lady just hands you a tray of whatever she decides you’re going to get. That’s the current state of cloud BI. It’s like “Here are the five apps we work with and the three dashboards you can choose from. And no, you can’t have Jell-O.” Not good enough.

The Fix: Expect more from the cloud. I ran one of the world’s largest cloud companies for 14 years. Suffice it to say, I know a little bit about what can and can’t be done. And there’s no reason cloud-based business intelligence solutions can’t deliver the kind of experience, flexibility and value that CEOs and other executives and managers expect. I think InfoWord said it well: “The use of BI in the cloud is a game-changer. Through the use of cloud computing, BI is finally affordable and available.” But…you have to expect more, know what you want, and most of all, choose wisely.

Can I get an “Amen?”

(…and if you actually just said the word “amen” out loud, then you might want to talk with my team here at Domo. There’s a good chance they can help.)