By Elissa Fink 13 Mai, 2009

Is it surprising to read that BI adoption rates are worse than conventional wisdom suggested? A respected survey of the BI market reports that 92% of employees with access to BI do NOT actually use BI. They’re called “disenfranchised.” Conventional wisdom has always put the number of the “disenfranchised” at 80% (as if that’s acceptable). Stephen Swoyer's article in today’s “TDWI’s BI This Week” newsletter reported this (and more) based on the respected BI Survey (formerly the OLAP Survey) from Nigel Pendse and the Business Application Research Center (BARC). As the 8th in a series, this year’s survey seems quite interesting!

In truth, the survey actually reported that just 8% are using BI. But I think it’s more astounding when you flip that number to 92%. Over 9 in 10 people do not use the BI tools into which their companies have invested hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars. Because a good visualization is worth at least a thousand words, here are some representations of that ratio.

Bi Adoption

Can you imagine that for any other product? 9 in 10 people who bought a car never drive it. 9 in 10 people who buy a movie ticket don’t actually go see the movie. 9 in 10 people never use the computers on their desks. Yet somehow it’s o.k. for BI? Of course I don’t expect that everyone would use BI. But 9 in 10 not using it? Give me a break.

It’s not that I blame the users. I’ve been there – I’ve been at companies where we had big fancy BI platforms that just didn’t do what I (a typical business analyst) needed. I admit I would try to use the software a couple of times and just abandon it. Is it my fault that it was hard to use and didn’t do what I needed? (Of course, once I discovered Tableau at my previous company, everything changed. I finally could do what I wanted.)

So what can this all be attributed to? Pendse says multiple factors were cited: security limitations, user scalability, slow query performance, hardware cost, data availability, software cost, hard-to-use software. Even internal power struggles play a role. In my mind, most of those reasons sound like they are not emanating from the targeted business user – the person who ultimately decides to click on that BI application. Shouldn’t we ask the business user – why aren’t you using BI tools?

The BI Survey may in fact have asked a significant number of end-users. I haven’t yet found out details about the survey sample but I’ve asked the good people at BARC. As soon as I hear, I’ll update this blog posting.

In the meantime, are you a business user that’s got some kind of BI platform at your organization that you’re not using? Help us understand why – comment on this blog post with your thoughts. Let’s find out what’s going on the hearts and minds of the “disenfranchised”.


Amen. I'm a "disenfranchised" non-BI user and not for the reasons cited. I hate our BI system. Give me something fast, easy and smart. Tableau does the job for me.

I believe that when people first see a BI solution, they take one look and say "this is not how I look at my data, my ways with Excel work fine for me, and here is a list of important things to me that this BI solution does not seem to do". They look at data on a cell by cell basis, not as a field of data, and there is little motivation to change from structureless flexibility to structured data sets.

I have found that going from something like Excel to a BI solution people are faced with limitations that they did not have before. Some examples, they cannot perform a table calculation on a table calculation that they found simple to do in Excel, or they want to aggregate an aggregate calculation, again an easy thing to accomplish without structure. What I am trying to say is that some people do not look at data the way BI solutions look at data, and when they try to use a BI solution like they use Excel, they reach roadblocks quickly.

A possible solution to this, instead of giving classes on what each button in an application does, spend some time talking about data structure and what reshaping and normalizing does to data and what it allows BI solutions to do. I believe understanding how to look at data is a prerequisite to effectively using BI solutions.

Why do I believe these things? I personally had to learn these lessons before I could make use of Tableau.


Exactly! And patience is truly a virtue. You have it in abundance.

The other thing I think is critical is for consumers of business analysis and users of "business intelligence" to learn about, believe in, and relentlessly practice the cycle of visual analysis that the four amigos (Chabot, Stolte, Hanrahan, Mackinlay) at Tableau teach repeatedly in webinars, whitepapers, presentations, casual conversations, etc. Jock Mackinlay's presentation this week on "Add Firepower to Your Application with Interactive Visual Analytics" was an outstanding example of this; hopefully it will be available soon in on-demand mode.


Ted Cuzzillo has said many times, "It's not about the tools, it's about the intelligence." Tableau makes every effort to get that point across, so kudos! As the same time, this topic could become quite emotional, since people have a lot invested in these tools, as you say; strong opinions all around. But, tools that respect the way the human brain works, and that are designed to allow real humans to start conversations that lead to beneficial actions in business or government or community will eventually be the norm. All you Tableauians should be very proud and humble to have had the opportunity to take the lead in this effort. Keep believing! Thanks so much.

Peace and All Good!
Michael W Cristiani
Market Intelligence Group

Joe - I agree with you. I think business users are actually smart about their data from a business or process perspective. They pretty much understand the "business sense" or substance of their data but they may not understand its technical or structural form.

A lot of people can get started with Tableau just based on their "business sense" of their data without understanding the form. But if you do take the time to understand the form and why reshaping or normalizing could make sense, you can be a lot more powerful and insightful.

Good suggestion on the idea of teaching classes about data structure and form.


Amen, Michael! The topic is emotional because 1) it's hard, 2) it matters and 3) different functions approach the problems differently, with little understanding of each others' needs or challenges (among other reasons). I appreciate your focus on the people/human part of this. Isn't that what most things eventually come down to? To steal from Tip O'Neill's comment that "all politics is local", "all analytics are personal". Maybe I'm oversimplifying but you get the idea.

I did reach out to the good folks at BARC and they replied very quickly with solid and very detailed information about their survey. I learned the following.

  • 2,600 respondents from end user companies (58% in EU and 35% in US)
  • 25.1% had a business role
  • 31.1% had a technical role
  • 42.8% had both business and technical roles

Interesting that just 25% were purely business but another 43% claimed to be both. I'm curious about people claime to have both technical and business roles. Are they really technical people with business sensibilities or business people with technical sensibilities?

I always thought business intelligence software was a funny name. Software isn't intelligent (before Tableau I didn't think so), people are. Before intelligent people can make intelligent decisions, they need the data to be put into a form that makes it "consumable."

Big BI takes to long and is beyond most entities reach. Spreadsheet pivot tables are great for people who actually learn how to use pivot tables.

The survey result doesn't surprise me. I recall my excitement in the mid 1990's when I first started playing with Cognos data cubes. I was the only one in my company who was excited. Noboby else got it....the resulting failure of the roll out was predictable. Only data geeks enjoy complexity.

Business people want their insights and they want them to be easy to get.

According to me,The BI Survey Analyzer is our powerful new interactive tool that enables you to perform your own custom analysis of the survey data.
This year's reports and analysis are based on the BI experiences of 2,961 organizations across 80 countries. As a window into actual Business Intelligence implementations and customer experiences with various Business Intelligence products.

A major new independent report based on detailed feedback from 2665 respondents - by far the world’s largest survey of its kind - reveals that data quality has now overtaken poor query performance as the most-reported problem encountered in business intelligence (BI) deployments.

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