Data Leaders Provide the Right Context to Prioritize and Address BI Challenges

Deriving value from business intelligence (BI) requires taking known technologies, processes, and human skills, aligning them to business practices and objectives, and leveraging data to inform decision making for smarter and better business results. Making this a reality never has been—and likely never will be—easy for most organizations. Although BI challenges remain omnipresent in the workplace, what changes most are wider individual and collective awareness of their details, immediacy, and importance.

In 2023, organizations (once again) consider data quality their most immediate and near-term BI challenge. Year over year, as ranked by respondents, data integration fell slightly in importance while data governance rose—with scores for both challenges practically tied for the second spot in perceived importance. All three of these areas represent issues associated more with data management than tools that support decision making. Both users and technical resources relating to these topics is important. As data and analytics continue to be more critical to organizational success, frontline data workers see and increasingly understand more back-office detail and complexity every day.

Effectively tied for third place are a pair of business problems: services / talent availability and internal skills / training—with business engagement following not far behind. To a lesser but important degree, political and technological issues remain steady concerns. Indeed, when considering our full list of 13 BI challenges—most of which do not relate to using BI tools—all are perceived as at least important across all demographics to a majority of respondents.

Although addressing these top challenges will vary widely by organization, efforts chosen share some commonalities, especially supporting and enabling a data culture in the workplace, building on BI successes, and providing and nurturing data leadership. The best practices we recommend are familiar, and include collaboration, benchmarking, maturity models, centers of excellence, data literacy, having a chief data officer (CDO), and cultivating internal data leaders.

The data leader—an official or de facto person inevitably behind a thriving BI program or data culture—many times serves as the figurehead and inspiration for knowledge workers, executives, and IT professionals. Functioning often as a liaison across these groups, a data leader places the importance of data into proper business contexts. Toward any given business objective—such as increasing revenue, reducing costs, or improving customer satisfaction—a data leader can identify and prioritize opportunities, and show where and how the use of data and analytics can provide value.

Although BI challenges can be tackled by efforts from the top-down, bottom-up, or somewhere in the middle, they require prioritization and coordination. Whether BI challenges get addressed by performance-motivated individuals, departmental or enterprise efforts, in-house or consulting resources, or a combination of these, a data leader should serve as gatekeeper for how the organization prioritizes and then addresses its BI challenges.

BI challenges—whether related to people, processes, technology, politics, or data structures—will remain omnipresent in organizations. It is their perceived severity and importance that changes. With BI success increasingly tied to business achievement, underpinning BI architectures, models, skills, and capabilities must evolve and change to reflect this alignment. Leadership is needed to openly confront and address BI challenges, supports users and executives, and align these efforts to solving business needs and creating business value. A data leader is uniquely positioned to be the person to fill this need.

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