Are You Stuck In BI Adolescence?

Published in April 2006

Most organizations today are stuck in the adolescent phase of business intelligence (BI). They’ve built a data warehouse, purchased some BI tools, and seen some uptake by end users. However, the
status of their BI program is anything but certain.

If you remember correctly from your youth, adolescence was both an exciting and a painful time, full of change, transition, and surprises. Every step forward was tentative, and you experienced as
many setbacks as victories. The same is true for companies in the midst of BI adolescence. If your BI program exhibits any of the following symptoms, it’s a good chance you are mired in the
adolescent phase of BI:

  • Your BI team moves perpetually from one crisis to the next instead of adding functionality to meet user requirements.
  • You have to plead continually with executives to not cut or eliminate the BI budget.
  • Usage of the BI environment peaked several months after deployment and continues to decline.
  • The number of spreadmarts, independent data marts, and other data warehouses with redundant and inconsistent data definitions keeps increasing instead of decreasing.
  • Users keep asking your team to create custom reports even though the organization recently purchased a “self-service” BI tool.
  • Executives still believe BI is a tool, not a strategic information resource to drive the organization in the right direction.
  • Query performance degrades significantly as more users use the system, but executives aren’t likely to pay for a platform upgrade.

The Gulf and the Chasm

If your team is experiencing any of these symptoms, you are not alone. Most organizations are stuck BI adolescence. They spend more time reacting to problems and “fighting fires” than adding new
functionality and delivering lasting business value.

This dilemma is depicted by TDWI’s BI Maturity Model, shown in Exhibit One. The bell shaped curve indicates that the majority of organizations are in the Child and Teenage phases of BI evolution.

Exhibit 1 – TDWI’s BI Maturity Model

Most BI programs are stuck in adolescence because they haven’t figured out how to circumvent the Gulf and the Chasm. Like Odysseus navigating the twin terrors of Schylla and Charibdis, many BI
programs fall prey to one or both obstacles during in their BI journey. As a result, many programs remain caught between infancy and adulthood in a permanent state of anxious adolescence.

The Gulf. The primary way to cross the Gulf is to change executive perceptions about the value of running the business using only operational reports (i.e. Prenatal BI) and
spreadmarts (i.e. Infant BI). Once they recognize the folly of such an approach, executives need to mandate and fund a BI initiative that moves the organization off old, ingrained systems to new
ones that empower users to access, analyze, and act on information.

The Gulf is also (missing a word here) when data quality arises as a huge problem. They recognize that the data captured by multiple transaction systems is difficult to
integrate and aggregate within a single data model and database. The source data is inconsistent, incomplete, and chock full of errors. The cost and time to clean this data often kills projects
before they get off the ground.

IN addition, spreadmarts make it impossible for teams to evolve a BI program and move cleanly into adolescence. Like invasive vines, spreadmarts suck the lifeblood out of a BI program, making it
difficult to generate momentum and backing for an enterprise BI initiative. TDWI recommends five ways to combat an infestation of spreadmarts. (See “Five Ways to Combat Spreadmarts.”)

The Chasm. The Chasm is deeper and wider than the Gulf and harder to cross. There are several reasons:

  • Flexibility. As the BI environment grows, it becomes less flexible and responsive to meet the needs of business users in a timely manner. Unless the BI team can develop new
    applications and views quickly, users are tempted to create their own shadow BI systems or spreadmarts.
  • Ownership. Divisional or departmental managers resist turning over their successful BI initiatives to a corporate group so the systems can be scaled up and out and disseminated
    to the rest of the organization.
  • Customized Delivery. Organizations fail to shift their emphasis from building data warehouses to empowering users with BI tools. At the same time, they need to recognize that
    most users want custom delivery of information (i.e. dashboards or scorecards) rather than ad hoc query or reporting tools.
  • Mental Silos. The organization fails to break down end-users’ mental silos for accessing information in a BI environment and show them how to perform cross-departmental analyses
    that lead to deep insights about how to optimize performance.
  • Perceptions. Executives fail to transform their view of BI from a tool for power users to an enterprise resource for all users and that is critical to the mission of the company.

To cross the Chasm, organizations must address each of the above problems. This takes an incredible amount of executive backing and funding. Executives must be committed to making the environment
work instead of letting everyone build their own systems. It is a delicate balancing act. Our industry is still gathering best practices for crossing this BI chasm.


The key to getting through BI adolescence is to take it one day and step at a time while keeping sight of the goal of providing insights on demand to all users in the organization. BI teams should
prepare concrete strategies for navigating the challenges posed by the Gulf and the Chasm. The task is not easy. Many BI teams must wait until the right opportunity arises-a new executive, new
regulations, a merger or acquisition-and then quickly execute plans and make a mad dash into adulthood while the time is right.

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Wayne Eckerson

Wayne Eckerson

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is currently director of BI Leadership Research, an education and research service run by TechTarget that provides objective, vendor neutral content to business intelligence (BI) professionals worldwide. WayneÕs consulting company, BI Leader Consulting, provides strategic planning, architectural reviews, internal workshops, and long-term mentoring to both user and vendor organizations. For many years, Wayne served as director of education and research at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) where he oversaw the companyÕs content and training programs and chaired its BI Executive Summit. He can be reached by email at

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