4 Reasons Business Intelligence Systems are Like an (Unused) Gym Membership

By: David Wilsey

  • 23 May 2014
  • Author: David Wilsey
  • Number of views: 10924
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My business intelligence (BI) and analytics software salesman friend said something interesting to me the other day over lunch. He said, “I don't sell software, I sell gym memberships. When someone joins a gym they are not really buying the membership. They are buying the dream of improved health and a better physique. Their intention is to work out every day and fulfill that dream, despite the fact that few people ever actually follow up. Selling BI software is the same way. I'm not selling the software; I’m selling the dream of improved insight and competitive advantage.”

The unspoken implication was that few people ever get significant benefit from their software system, a conclusion I have also observed over my years in strategic performance management.

There are many common reasons that your strategic performance management software system might be getting less use than the gym membership you bought last January.  Below are the top 4 that I’ve seen as well as some tips for avoiding them.  

Reason 1: You bought into the hype but not the skills
I overheard a CEO recently saying that he needed to buy into the big data craze.  It was clear that this person had no idea what big data or predictive analytics meant, but he definitely needed to buy some.  Many people seem to think if they just buy some software, within weeks a “number cruncher” will magically come down from a mountain with answers to all of their problems. That is like thinking that if I buy a shovel, a garden will magically appear in my back yard. Performance management and statistical analysis skills are critical to creating value in this field.
 
Reason 2: You keep the results a secret
The first question some people ask when considering a performance system is, “how do I keep everyone out of my data?”  Security around private customer, employee, or some financial information is an absolute must, but a surprising amount of strategic organizational performance information can be shared with leaders and managers.  Leaders need information to make decisions and limiting access can communicate that strategy management is something to be left to only a select few.  Analyzing data is only the first step.  The dialog around why the results occurred and what should happen next are just as critical.
 
Reason 3: You only use out-of-the-box performance report design
The standard templates provided by the software companies are almost always designed to make the software sell well, as opposed to informing YOUR strategic decision making. Good performance reports communicate three things clearly: 1) How is OUR organization currently performing, 2) Why are WE getting the results that we are getting?  And 3) What are WE doing to improve our results?

Reason 4: You count and report on everything that can be counted.
Just because the vendor promises that this tool can handle the volume doesn’t mean that this is a good idea. Strategic performance management is about focusing on the most critical things first. I would recommend selecting a handful of critical performance gaps and focus your data collection, analysis, and improvement efforts on those.  Teach everyone in your organization how to do this effectively before you expand to other areas.

There are many more common mistakes, but these four are top of mind for me.  Please share other mistakes you’ve seen in the comments section below.

For more about how to improve your performance analysis, see the Performance Analysis chapter of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.
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