Engaging the “Gatekeepers” -- An Often Overlooked Principle to a Successful Business Intelligence (BI) Implementation


/ 2013-06-03

When a company makes the decision to transition to a more BI-centric environment, a key piece to the puzzle is often overlooked: buy-in and support from the business users, someone we refer to as the “Gatekeepers.” As consultants we are very sensitive to engaging in the right manner so that everyone in the project comes out a winner. This article discusses some of our philosophy for that team effort.

A gatekeeper, who has often been viewed as the company’s go-to person for all crucial answers, is suddenly left feeling as though their power of information delivery is slowly slipping away. The consultant’s efforts to engage and understand these key people in the organization’s user community is critical to ensure success and buy-in for new BI initiatives.

Before beginning any major review or overhaul of an organization’s business intelligence environment, it is vital to address and understand the previous reporting environment the users have relied upon. Knowing this comfort zone helps ease the transition stress. Consultants must take time to familiarize themselves with legacy practices and many user questions and concerns. They must listen carefully to help cultivate a feeling of importance among the various users, allowing users to trust in the transition and help evolve the BI solution to properly meet the organization’s needs.

While merging all the company’s information will take many meetings and modeling sessions, the foundation the consultants establish in the beginning, with all the key players, will greatly affect the outcome of the project. Consultants should work hard to engage the key players early on to avoid isolating anyone in the process. Failure to do so can be devastating to the overall success of the transition to a BI-centered organizational culture. The delicate nature in addressing these changes is more a practice of people skills than one of vast BI knowledge.

At some point, every BI consultant encounters a client who does things in a “historical” approach. Sometimes it’s so historical (e.g. “ancient”) that users are managing the business through spreadsheets and personal, very segmented data warehouses. These efforts are so disconnected from each of the various departments that users are unaware of the decision making power they are missing. The consultant’s goal is to help merge together this key and powerful information so that the appropriate departments, and the overall organization, can work together to make better, data-driven, decisions.

The most detrimental word a consultant could ever say is the five letter word: wrong.

A team’s feeling of losing control of the data to a consulting group can be hard. But they should never say the company’s approach to work is wrong. Systems evolve and get complex and confusing over time. Consultants are there to help business teams look at things in new ways. Data and information assessments can take on the feel of criticism, which should never be done. Everyone is involved to make things better, not make personal criticisms. To help move things along, consultants should:

  • Engage the “go-to” business user, the “gatekeeper,” and understand what is important.
  • Build a team environment to get to the main business objectives. Retain and address the data areas and reporting requirements that are pivotal to the business.
  • Work together to identify what key measures are important and must be brought forward. The conversations are often more involved and detailed in cataloging the ways of the past than required, but this is helpful in bridging the user from the old to the new.
  • Start with “baby step” changes. Deliver data in a familiar format AND also showing some of the capabilities of the new system that were previously not available.
  • Be patient. Do not expect everyone to adapt to the new systems overnight without putting up some resistance. Do not underestimate the training needs. If you did your job, everyone will come to appreciate the reliability, ease of use, and agile development the new system offers.

New technologies result in newer and better ways to run a business. But some users will be resistant to change—especially someone who’s been the company’s data “gatekeeper.” A gentle approach that empowers all users is essential to avoid alienation along the way. Consultants can help the users understand the efficiency and assistance the new approach to BI can provide, freeing up their time for other areas of need, while still making everyone feel like “data heroes.”

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