Any BI initiative is likely to be, in large part at least, an exercise in change management. Building a great system is one thing, getting people to change the way they work and even in the case of BI, the way they think, is not always easy. Old ways of working can be deep-seated and whilst some may embrace the change with open arms, others may see it as an unwelcome intrusion on their working life – or even as a direct threat to it.
BI projects may be even more prone than most to be subject to mistrust and suspicion, reliant as they often are on access to data which may previously have been viewed as the ‘property’ of a particular business area or individual. Without careful handling, the increased visibility and ease of manipulation of data resulting from a BI project may also appear threatening to some, perceived to be a tool for measuring performance and finding fault with current practice with a view to apportioning blame.
It is easy to dismiss such attitudes, but it may be wise not to do so. For if left unchecked, such opinions can quickly become deep-rooted and begin to spread; building up a level of resistance that can prove difficult to overcome. Thankfully, there are ways in which we can help smooth the change management process which can not only limit the damage caused, but also help prevent it from occurring in the first place.
1. For change management to be successful it must be supported by the user population and the project sponsor
Where the issue of change management was addressed within the Jisc-funded projects there was general agreement that changes in working practices were more likely to be successful if they were user-led, rather than being imposed either by the project or from the top down. Several of the projects such as the University of Bedfordshire, University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the Open University had an explicit expectation that a successful project would lead to changes in common business processes.
It was noticeable that the projects where the expected changes were well understood by those who would be impacted were, on the whole, better received. To this end UCLan suggested that starting as soon as possible within the project lifecycle and adopting a bottom-up reinforced by a top-down approach increases the chances of success.
Change management can be difficult in a changing environment, such as the one that the University of Bolton’s project experienced. This was made particularly severe as the full impact of the work was not appreciated until some way into the project. A supportive and engaged project sponsor proved very helpful in these circumstances.
The University of Glasgow has a long established practice of user-led development and in this project the requirements were driven by user input and therefore the resulting application was in-line with user expectations and as a result stood a good chance of being successfully incorporated into existing working practice. To reinforce this process the users were consulted again at key stages of the project lifecycle. This practice was shared by the Universities of East London and Bedfordshire where the user feedback was used to refine their application in order to fulfil user expectations.
2. Changing an established work practice requires a lot of effort
The Open University commented that it requires a very considerable effort to launch a new tool such as the one that they had developed and to integrate it into the working practices of a large number of administrators and academics. They justifiably believe that it is a reflection of the success of the project that despite the effort required there has been a high level of enthusiasm to implement their tool.
3. Ensure that all the consequences of a proposed change have been identified and managed
A major aspect of the University of Liverpool’s project was the creation of a management information competency centre (MICC) to foster the development of BI applications. An unforeseen and significant issue arose when the staff that were to be incorporated into the MICC were not sufficiently consulted, and were therefore unclear about what was planned and what the impact on them would be.
As a result what should have been a popular and positive development was viewed with some suspicion and even fear. The project staff acknowledged that the sensitivities that surround changes to job descriptions had not been sufficiently appreciated and the process had not been handled with enough care. However the eventual and successful introduction of the MICC has provided a new and dynamic mechanism for effecting change within local units and across the wider university.
4. User involvement in all stages of the project is key to the success of a project
Several projects, most notably the University of Glasgow, took the user-led approach to the requirements analysis. This had the effect of ensuring user buy-in at an early stage. A major issue for the project if it rolls the application out from a pilot to an organisational tool will be to maintain the same level of enthusiasm from the wider group of users.
5. Including a key user on the project team increases the chances of the project’s success
Several project teams, such as the University of East London, included key users in pivotal roles within the project team. This approach had several advantages, including having a member of the project team who could be identified by the user population as ‘one of us’ which helps break down barriers and build trust. In addition the project was informed and to varying degrees driven by a user’s view of the required outcomes.
6. Senior management sponsors need to be actively engaged in the project, not just figureheads
A small number of projects thought that simply having a senior member of the university’s management chairing the project board would be enough to ensure senior management buy-in. However, it quickly became clear that such senior managers have to be actively involved and to have a good understanding of the impact that deploying a BI application will have on the organisation.
As the University of Bedfordshire noted, the sponsor must be willing and able to break down any barriers to the success of the project and willing to promote the expected benefits to other senior members of the university.