Posted by: datango AG | August 18, 2011

Will consumerization of BI spur greater adoption?

I read Todd Weiss’ post commenting on James Richardson’s (Gartner Analyst) view regarding the consumerization of BI leading to greater adoption rates (from 30%-50% in the coming year) and I couldn’t help feeling that there was a missing ingredient. You can read Todd’s post here.

As I’ve posted before, I think we often confuse the ability to intuit how to navigate an application (i.e. an intuitive user interface) with the ability to truly leverage (adopt) the process/behavior that the application is designed to support. And BI is a classic example where merely making the technology intuitive to use isn’t synonymous with leveraging it’s true potential for the business.

In my time working with an exceptionally intuitive BI solution provider, getting to the data wasn’t really the problem. It was what the user inferred from that data which could be costly to the business. This interpretation could be as simple as inferring incorrectly what a data value represents based upon it’s ‘column header’: e.g. the ‘order value’ column may mean ‘revenue’ or ‘booking value’ which, depending upon whether the order comprises services, support, licenses, etc. may be materially very different and prompt an action by the user which is inappropriate without further information.

So while getting to an intuitive UI is, I believe, a good thing, we shouldn’t confuse usability with adoption and, for me, consumerization really leads to greater use, not greater adoption in its truest sense. And the same rules apply for the increasingly usable and intuitive cloud-based applications as well as BI solutions.

Coincidentally, the converse of this scenario is also true. I frequently discuss the need for ‘testing’ the end users of applications in their ability to adhere to process and best practice prior to allowing them to go-live on the production system. In this scenario, we generally give the end user the data (input values) that they would need to input so as to adhere to a specific scenario (such as Joe Bloggs called to place an order for 10,000 widgets, process the order in the order entry system). The idea here is that they are not ‘free form’ and allowed to create their own scenario and associated input values. While, technically, we could allow them to be as free-form or restricted as they need to be, the reality is that we’re assessing their ability to adhere to process and associated policies, not see if they can come up with a creative name for a customer contact (unless that’s part of the process). By removing these variables and focusing explicitly on the process, we remove ambiguity and increase the end user’s focus on what’s important which, in turn, increases retention.

What does all this mean? Simply this: Your adoption approach needs to consider how much focus needs to be placed upon navigating the application and how much focus needs to be placed upon process, policy, and procedure. All of this needs to be in the context of your user community and their individual skills, backgrounds, IT savvy. Couple this with the implications of ‘getting it wrong’ and you have the basic building plocks to help you start defining what needs to be covered in a thorough training needs analysis (or user adoption strategy). Only then can you build a plan that will increase adoption as opposed to merely increasing use which may, in certain scenarios, not necessarily be a good thing.

Your thoughts?



  1. This is an excellent summary of the issue. Companies always think that they have a great application for smart users who will pick it up quickly but they forget that this is not just about clicking around in the application. All applications in companies support business processes and these processes need to be effectively implemented with a solid change management programme.

    • Our point exactly Derek! Thanks for commenting.

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