Traditional BI Speeds More Crippling Than We Thought

Traditional BI Speeds Even More Crippling Than We Thought

A recent article from Stephen Swoyer of The Data Warehousing Institute implies that the negative impact to end users from poor query performance is even worse than originally thought.  Stephen’s key quote:

“BI vendors like to talk up a 20/80 split — i.e., in any given organization, only 20 percent of users are actually consuming BI technologies; the remaining 80 percent are disenfranchised. According to BI Survey 8, however, most shops clock in at far below the 20 percent rate. In any given BI-using organization, notes Nigel Pendse, a principal with BARC and the primary architect of BI Survey, just over 8 percent of employees are actually using BI tools. Even in industries that have aggressively adopted BI tools (e.g., wholesale, banking, and retail), usage barely exceeds 11 percent.”

So the most recent study says 8%+ (let’s call it 10%) of end users actually use what’s been rolled out, and the rest are ‘disenfranchised’.  One thrust of the article is that BI Vendors are actually inflating the amount of usage by using the colloquial ‘80/20’ description of the usage problem.  This is a bit like my favorite story about Warren Buffett.  To paraphrase, an interviewer once asked him “Mr. Buffett, I learned that you don’t spend most of your time talking, negotiation, or in meetings but you spend 80% of your work time reading.  Is this true?”  Mr. Buffett’s replied “Actually it’s more like 90%”.  We can agree that there is a huge group of disenfranchised business users, or we can violently agree.  One study author called BI firms’ penchant for using  an 80/20 split ‘vendor’s optimism’.  This is splitting hairs.  Most business people won’t care whether 80% or 90% of their people are not using a decision support system paid for and installed.  Both numbers are equally alarming and mean failure.

Why did the Business Application Research Center study show such low usage?  They found three reasons:  “security limitations, user scalability, and slow query performance”.  Of these, the last two can be bucketed into ‘system performance’.  One could interpret this to mean that ‘If your BI application gets security right, and it follows the typical usage pattern—a minority of potential users use it—, it’s due to one thing: performance.”

It’s unlikely very low usage five years ago and the same very low usage today has different root causes.  What’s more likely is the typical end user has very real limitations on how much time they can spend on BI, and if the system performance can’t meet their requirements, they don’t engage with it.

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