Has your BI adoption stalled or been slower than expected? Join the club. According to Gartner, 91 percent of organizations have not yet reached a “transformative level” for maturity in data analytics. In short, nobody’s using business intelligence software to its fullest potential despite it being one of the heaviest places of investment right now.

The picture is worse for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). Sixty-five percent of SMBs don’t use BI and dashboards to analyze business data, relying instead on spreadsheets, according to research by Software Advice. This puts SMBs firmly in Level 1: “Unaware”—the lowest possible position on Gartner’s BI maturity model (Figure 1).

So who is to blame for small businesses remaining in the stone age when it comes to BI adoption?

Some good news: It’s not your fault… unless you happen to be the one calling the shots in your business. In that case, Boss, you are to blame.

Data and Analytics Maturity Model

Figure 1: Data and analytics maturity model (Source—Full report available to Gartner clients)

In a recent survey carried out by analytics consultancy New Vantage Partners, more than 41 percent of data professionals reported that a lack of management adoption and understanding is what derailed overall BI adoption in their company.

With managers playing such a crucial role to BI success, IT directors, CIOs, and tech savvy decision-makers must convince the top brass in their companies to recognize BI as a priority investment. And likewise, company leadership needs to reconcile business priorities with the priorities of their IT departments.

 RECOMMENDATION:  Whether you’re king of the mountain or bottom on the totem pole, BI is something everyone should be agreeing on. BI investment is a consistent generator of ROI. Approximately 81 percent of executives who have successfully completed a BI deployment said BI investment paid off with business benefits such as cost savings and improved operational efficiency.

However, gaining management buy-in is an obstacle. BI project stakeholders should work to present the value of BI in the material terms of the business, while managers should better align their decision-making with the pain points of the end users.

In this article, we’ll discuss three common ways the boss blocks BI adoption and how teams can work together to overcome them.

Stakeholders see a safe bet, managers see a gamble

Bosses deserve some sympathy: When you’re the one writing the checks, investing in some esoteric system you’ve never heard of can make your knees knock.

The problem is managers usually aren’t the IT experts, and this puts stakeholders who want to increase the uptake of BI in a tough spot. Forty-one percent of small businesses say their big data initiative didn’t happen because of business resistance or decision-makers not understanding big data.

BI vendors also contribute to the challenge of persuading senior management support. Vendors still have a lot to do to clean up BI’s bad reputation with small businesses. Legacy on-premise deployments of BI in the past required a lot of time and money to get it up and running. These have been, and still are, some of the main reasons that stopped management from getting involved.

If the value proposition of BI can’t be clearly conveyed to the boss or chief decision-makers, they won’t invest. Instead they’ll rebuke their stakeholders, resist change, and cling to aging solutions like Excel—which, notably, I do not recommend as a permanent data analytics solution.

 RECOMMENDATION FOR STAKEHOLDERS:  When building the business case for BI adoption in your small business, think like your boss. Don’t bog down your pitch with abstract or low impact infrastructure improvements or mention the backend updates that excite your team.

Rather, focus on clear solutions to current business problems plaguing your company. For example, drum up interest to invest in BI software with the point that companies utilizing BI tools report they are five times more likely to make faster decisions.

 RECOMMENDATION FOR MANAGERS:  Prepare to take a leap of faith. Making a large investment in technology you don’t fully understand can be scary. Listen to your IT department when they recommend going all in on BI software. With self-service and cloud based BI options positioned to be the way forward, there’s never been a better opportunity—or one more forgiving on your wallet—to buy into BI.

Impulse decisions sabotage BI adoption

Maybe you’ve met this type of boss? Maybe you are this type of boss? The leader who suffers from shiny object syndrome. You’ll know this leader by their compulsion to take every new, passerby idea by the horns and grant it top attention and resources. Until, a few weeks pass, and, like clockwork, their newest, favorite [insert latest tech fad here] walks into view.

“Hows the progress on integrating machine learning, blockchain, digital twin, time travel!”—add it to the towering queue, says the boss.

You get the idea.

The problem with this type of management style is that the most urgent business priorities go unaddressed. Ideas and initiatives are not given enough time or resources to take root and flourish.

Project stakeholders grow frustrated as they are redirected, and sent through this revolving door of projects that go unfulfilled. Efforts to improve BI adoption are discarded on the crowded, cutting room floor.

 RECOMMENDATION FOR STAKEHOLDERS:  The antidote to a distracting parade of shiny new ideas in your office is data. Do the research and present by the numbers analysis to support a bid for improving BI adoption. For example, by how much will your organization decrease time to insight, improve retention rates by analyzing trends in employee turnover, or increase conversions by identifying higher performing product pages—just to name a few benefits of doubling-down on BI adoption.

The data will shine light on the technologies, strategies, and decisions with demonstrated worth, and therefore, cannot easily be dismissed by the boss.

 RECOMMENDATION FOR MANAGERS:  Let a small amount of doubt into all your decisions—not a lot, just a short-lived breeze. Then consider for a moment that your decision is wrong. Listen to feedback and be open to new ideas. Project stakeholders are not a peanut gallery to drown out, but a source of counsel with valuable insight. BI is one of their good ideas.

BI is lost in translation if teams don’t speak the same ‘language’

While most of us share a common language with our boss or direct reports, you’ll find that from time to time you aren’t on the same page. This is especially true when aligning the team vision for BI adoption.

The lexicon of data analytics is loaded with words and concepts that intersect and overlap in meaning. Big data, dark data, business intelligence, data mining, and data analytics all have stand-alone meaning, but the shared strands of these concepts are difficult to unravel.

Be aware of the potential for misunderstandings and communication breakdown when sharing your BI project vision across the organizational chart.

These language barriers disadvantage companies trying to make progress with their BI maturity. According to a New Vantage Partners survey, nearly 30 percent of data professionals say inability to create a shared vision limited the readiness of their company to adopt BI.

At the same time, 30 percent say that it was lacking a coherent data strategy that prevented them from making big BI gains across their workforce.

 RECOMMENDATION FOR STAKEHOLDERS:  If you do not agree or do not understand your leader’s vision, speak up. Avoid bottling up these feelings, as your peers may feel the same, and could lead to a revisionary process to better calibrate the vision to your team needs.

 RECOMMENDATION FOR MANAGERS:  It is not enough to speak your vision aloud. You must ensure it was understood. In a Gartner article titled “No Data and Analytics Vision? No Business Impact!” (full report available to Gartner Clients) IT leaders are encouraged to ‘sell [their] vision,” not stopping until every team member and shareholder can “recite the vision instantly.”