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BI training too important to skip, experts say

Training is the step everyone loves to skip, but doing that could imperil the whole BI implementation, proponents say.

Training is the final step of a software implementation and the one everyone loves to skip. The scenario is all too common. Companies spend time up front justifying the purchase, selecting the software and implementing it and then decide they’re done -- giving short shrift to the crucial last piece.

When it comes to  business intelligence (BI) software implementation, this mistake could render the whole undertaking null and void. BI training that goes beyond the tool’s technical features is crucial to helping employees gain the insights they need to do their jobs better, industry observers say.

But without in-depth training, employees won’t properly use the BI software, depriving organizations of the benefits of this new IT investment. Before planning training programs, however, companies will likely need to do some work preparing their organizations culturally for the BI implementation.

Data sharing, analysis essential to BI training

The underpinning of a BI implementation is a pooling of an organization’s information in a data warehouse. Everyone queries the same data, so presumably the result is more trustworthy than the previous ways of doing analysis, in which employees generally crunched data residing on their hard drives. Unfortunately, a cultural shift is required to start trusting the data in the BI tool, and the same is true for getting employees to become more open with their data, according to Howard Dresner, chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, in Nashua, N.H.  

“BI is not going to do much good if everyone is protecting their turf,” said Dresner, author of several books on BI. “If the culture doesn’t embrace [sharing data], you won’t get anything out of BI.” The imperative about being a performance-driven organization has to come from the top, he added. Without that mandate, “you can spend so much money on this and [the tool] still might not get used.”

As founder of Maynard, Mass.-based Athena IT Solutions, a consulting firm that helps with BI implementations and training, Rick Sherman sees a lot of companies go wrong at a critical stage. Typically, companies ask their BI vendor to provide training, which is a good start.

But the BI training is often done too early. “They send people to get trained on the tool, months before they’re going to use it. By the time they get to use the tool, they have forgotten what to do,” Sherman said. This is easily remedied by paying closer attention to the BI implementation timeline, he said.

Making BI software part of employee culture

More significant, the BI training program often fails to set the tool in the context of the employee's daily work life. If not addressed, this is fatal to adoption. “[Employees] get barraged with features and they can’t put the functionality into the context of how they do their jobs,” Sherman said.

Adding to the problem, he said, is that most companies make sure IT staff has training on how to use the tool from a technical standpoint, but IT still may not  understand how to use the tool to gain actionable business insight. When users call for help, the IT person is stymied, according to Sherman.

“The IT folks may understand how to create dashboards and heat maps [but] they still don’t know how to help the business user use BI.”

It is all too common, but avoidable, to underestimate the depth of BI training required, he said.

To safeguard BI investments, it is well worth taking the time to get this right, Sherman continued. The most effective training, he said, is a short course geared to the company’s own data with some information on how to use the graphical representations.

“Offer multiple two-hour sessions spread out over a period of time with their data and similar reports. Let them use it and have them come back and ask questions,” Sherman advised.




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