Let us face it, how many times have you read that failure rates in BI projects are sky high and that you have a better chance of getting an upgrade in your next flight than for your BI project to succeed? Reality is that in my professional career I have found this to be a true statement, albeit not for the reasons that most people think. When you think of a failed BI project, most of us conjure an image of a developer who has no clue what he/she is doing and the computer displaying the now legendary blue screen. However, I have never seen a project being shelved because of technical issues. Granted many technical implementations are done by people who have little knowledge and thus typically fail the first time; never the less it is very “easy” to recover from a bad technical implementation: with the right team the project can be turned around in mere weeks. So, if technical glitches are not the reason for permanent failure, what is to blame? You probably guessed the answer by reading the title of this blog: politics. Politics are an inherent quality of the human race and they are always present when you have more than one individual, they permeate everything we do at home, school and work and balance the nature of our interactions with our family, friends and colleagues. So, if politics are everywhere, how come they affect BI projects more than other IT initiatives?
Business Intelligence projects have the potential to significantly upset the balance of power in the organization, both from a project and outcome perspective. Many blogs and white papers have addressed how the outcome of a BI initiative affects the balance of power; this blog however will attempt to prove how the project itself can be an agent of chance, independently of the outcome. In order to understand this hypothesis we need to take a step back and understand why the organization chooses to execute a BI project. BI projects are by nature information projects, organizations realize they need to invest in BI when they are looking for a competitive advantage that is inherent to the organization itself: Business Intelligence enables a company to use its own information (wherever this might be located) as a competitive advantage. They key is not in the what (information you have), but in the how (it will be used). Here, therefore, lies the crux to the situation, it is not the destination that matters (the organization will end up having more or less the same information), but the journey (how this information will be visualized, interpreted and acted upon) which will define success. The process of establishing these new organizational processes will be critical to how the organization will evolve, and more importantly what will it become. Thus, the person that is appointed to lead the project is not only being a project lead, in fact, depending on the scope of the BI initiative, he/she is being effectively designated as the organization architect who will build the foundation layer for a new operating model.
It is not surprising then, that politics start to play well before a BI project gets underway, with every coalition of power in the organization proposing/backing their candidate(s) who will lead the initiative, in a similar fashion to political parties determining who will be the official candidate to run for an election. In addition, given the technical complexity and magnitude of the task, the organization will also likely chose a partner that will supplement/complement the internal staff. The selection of the partner is equally complex, with many variables to be considered, including the quality of the vendor, price, reputation and brand equity. However, the successful criteria for selecting the vendor will always boil down to a matter of trust; do I trust this partner to help me achieve the organizational objectives? Not different from a political candidate choosing their second in command, Barack Obama choosing Joe Biden and John McCain choosing Sarah Paling, in the USA 2008 presidential election. While all the candidates want to win the election, it is important to recognize that the foundation for change is seeded in the campaign, not in the victory. Similarly the foundation for organizational change is established by the project team, as the project executes. The success or failure will not be in the deployment to production, but on how the project team established a clear link between the people who are running the company and the new way of visualizing, interpreting and acting on the information that the project enabled. A successful BI project will empower the people to make effective decisions thus creating a new era in, you guessed right, organizational politics.