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The BI Roadmap (part 1): 5 essential questions to ask

EducationSummary: Despite the growing need for analytics, most BI projects still fail. In this first installment of the BI Roadmap series, you’ll learn why these projects fail, along with a few foundational questions you cannot afford to ignore before starting a BI project.

Business Intelligence (BI) has a problem. Despite the growing need for analytics, most BI projects still fail.

Why? Or perhaps a better question: How can we fix it?

photo credit: lumaxart via photopin cc
photo credit: lumaxart via photopin cc

Talk to most BI vendors, and they’ll tell you the solution lies in the tool. Buy their tool, and your problems will melt away. Right? Not exactly.

While good BI will tools help, the reality is this: BI failures aren’t usually caused by bad tools. They come from foundational problems.

For instance, some businesses skimp on planning and jump straight into the implementation. Others don’t ask the right questions from the start. Still others don’t have a clear goal. I’ve seen these problems crop up over and over again.

Today, I’d like to start a “BI Roadmap” series. Over the course of a few articles, I’ll share the steps you must take to improve your chances of BI success.

In this first part of this BI Roadmap series, let’s uncover the “foundational questions.” These are questions that you must ask before starting your BI journey. They lie at the base of any good BI project. Ignore them at your own peril.

What are they? Before you start looking for a BI solution and before you start mapping out your plan, ask yourself these questions:

1. Why are we doing this?

Why do so many BI projects fail? For many, it boils down to one fact: They can’t answer the question of, “Why are we doing this?”

What’s driving this change? What pressing problem will it solve?

If you don’t know what problem it will solve, that’s a problem.

If the pain of not having BI isn’t that bad, that’s a problem.

If all key decision-makers aren’t on board with the project, that’s a problem.

BI projects can take months to complete. They’re not always easy. If you don’t have a clear reason–a problem you’re trying to solve–you’re headed for disaster. The project will likely flounder, as key executives start questioning its value half-way through.

Before you proceed with BI, you must get on the same page. Your key decision-makers must understand why you need BI, and the problem you’re trying to solve.

2. What will success look like?

photo credit: Bogdan Suditu via photopin cc
photo credit: Bogdan Suditu via photopin cc

Imagine you’re in an archery competition. But, as you pull the bow back and aim your arrow, you realize something: The targets are blank. No bullseye. No lines. Nothing.

How will you know if you succeed?

Sadly, that’s how many BI projects begin. They have no clear goal, no definition of success. Without a clear goal, you cannot succeed.

Before you begin your BI project, create your target. Map out exactly what success will look like.

Now, I’m not talking about vague goals like, “better data access” or “improved decision-making.” Those are great benefits, but aren’t specific. The goals must be specific to the problem you are trying to solve.

Without specific goals, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded. Without specific goals, those working on the project won’t be on the same page.

3. Where is our data?

More than any other factor, data will make or break a BI project. What data are you analyzing, and where does it live?

If you can’t answer those questions, your BI project has little chance of success.

Is your data in a database? Is it in many spreadsheets? Is it siloed across different departments? Does it exist in varying formats?

This question may sound obvious, but it regularly creates problems for BI projects.

Before you even begin your BI planning, take a data audit. Understand what data you need to analyze, and where that data lives.

4. Who will use this?

photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc
photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc

Imagine walking into a hardware store and asking for some tools. Can they help you if you don’t tell them what sort of tools you need or what problem you’re trying to solve? Of course not!

The same lesson applies to BI. You don’t dive into a BI project without first understanding who will use it, and what problem they’re trying to solve.

But yet, this mistake occurs far too often. Businesses roll out BI solutions without involving their users, or learning their needs. The result: A “solution” that nobody uses.

Before starting your BI planning, first understand who will use the solution. Understand the problems they face.

What are they using now? What do they struggle with? What would they like in a solution?

It doesn’t stop there. Once you understand your user’s problems and goals, involve them throughout the process. If not, you run the risk of delivering “solutions” that nobody uses.

5. Who will drive this?

Companies who are most successful with software implementations share a few common characteristics.

First, they have full executive buy-in. Their decision makers understand the goals, and will do what it takes to complete the project.

Second, they have a strong leader who owns the project. Without this leader, everyone assumes that someone else is working on it, and the project flounders.

Finally, they have product champions taken from those who will be using the solution. These people drive excitement and user adoption among the other users.


While we’ll cover other aspects of the BI process in future articles, this is your starting point. These 5 questions lie at the foundation of any successful BI implementation. If ignored, your BI project will likely fail.

So, what do you think? Is there anything you would add to this list? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments.

2 thoughts on “The BI Roadmap (part 1): 5 essential questions to ask”

  1. Pingback: The Business Intelligence Roadmap (Part 1)→ Cortell

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