This is a follow on from my last post where I gave my view on why so many companies fail to embrace Self Service BI as at least a part of the overall BI capability.  In that article I introduced the concept “You get the IT Department you deserve”, and I want to explore that concept further in this article as it is directly related to removing barriers to getting started with Self Service BI.  Those that have followed my writings over time will be familiar with the fact that I spent 15 years working in commercial roles (in the business), relying on IT as a service provider.  And I then spent 10 years working in IT as that same service provider back to the business.  My insights having done both have shaped my views on these things.

You Get the IT Department You Deserve

I wanted to clarify what this statement means.  It is ultimately the executive leadership and CEO that are responsible for the way the IT Department services the business.  In that sense what this quote is saying is that you reap what you sow.  If a CEO fails to engage with IT because s/he doesn’t understand IT, then it is his/her fault if things go sour.  If functional departments accept that they can’t get what they need (from IT) to run the business and do nothing about it, it is their own fault for accepting this situation.  So when I say “you get the IT department you deserve”, I am saying it is the business leaders’ fault if IT is not servicing you well.

Of course the implication of this on your access to Self Service BI (Power BI, Power Pivot etc) in your organisation is that you should not blame IT if your company doesn’t embrace Self Service BI.  If the IT department is not giving you what you need, then start the process of influencing the B level executives in your organisation to make a change.

Battered IT Syndrome

Battered IT Syndrome

Do any of these things sound familiar?

  • IT won’t let you do touch anything, even on the PC you work with.  They know when something goes wrong it will be “IT’s fault” so they won’t let you do anything.
  • You have a project, and you spend more time on gaining sign off the requirements documents than almost anything else.  Note I am emphasising the sign off, not requirements gathering.  Then when something goes wrong or is not what you need, the response is “You signed off on it”.
  • You can’t get any action on an important IT item unless you escalate to the most senior levels in the organisation.  Then action happens on that item (and other things stop).
  • You ask IT to do something for you and the response is “…do you have the budget”?
  • I am sure there are many more symptoms.

These (in my view) are all symptoms of Battered IT Syndrome.  The syndrome is created by the people in the business that “beat up on” IT when things go wrong.  The result is a downward spiral in the relationship which includes “thrashings” from the business when things go wrong followed by greater and greater defensive postures by IT (to protect itself).  This can go on for years with deteriorating results for everyone.

The businesses with the worst IT outcomes that I have seen are those that suffer Battered IT Syndrome.  Is it any wonder that companies that have this problem do not embrace new technologies like Self Service BI?

The CEO is Accountable

The CEO is ultimately accountable for the running of an organisation.  My guess is that CEO’s that do not understand (or are removed from) IT are more likely to reside over organisations that suffer Battered IT Syndrome.  To illustrate the point, let me swap out “IT Director” with “Sales Director” and look at some common excuses.  I can’t imagine a successful CEO accepting the following from the Sales Director, year after year.

  • I didn’t have the budget to get the sales the business needed.  If you wanted more sales, you should have given me more budget.
  • It was a lot more challenging than I expected, that’s why it didn’t happen.
  • My most skilled Sales Exec was away on leave, so I couldn’t get the job done.
  • We did deliver the sales target you asked for – it just took us 18 months instead of 12 months and 200% of our budget.

Of course things can and do go wrong in all functions in a business.  When things go wrong, strong organisations learn from the mistakes and plan to improve, then move on.  But if the Sales Director continues to deliver poor results with excuses like those above, then the CEO will get the sales results (and ultimately the business results) s/he deserves.  It is no different with IT.

So What Needs to Happen?  We Are All Responsible

It is difficult to solve Battered IT Syndrome without a significant circuit breaker, and this certainly includes change in some form.  It could be change in the approach by the CEO, change by one or more B level managers, and most likely it needs to be a combination of a number of things.   It is true that you personally can’t solve world peace when it comes to IT in your organisation.  However if your business still doesn’t embrace Self Service BI, then change can start with you.  If possible, start to use any tools you can get your hands on (Power Pivot, Power Query, Power BI) and start the process of demonstrating value.  Assuming you can start using these tools*, then start to demonstrate value to others so you can start to get traction.  I have never met a business leader that doesn’t want better results with less effort.  When you start to demonstrate added value from your own sphere of influence using the new wave of tools, then sooner or later someone is going to say “How did you do that?, How can I do that?”  This is the start of change.

* In some extreme cases you simply can’t start using these tools because everything is locked down on your PC. In this situation, my advice is to enlist some help from your direct manager to get the software you need installed.  You will have to explain why you want the tools and how it will make you (and your boss) get better results. You might even have to demo on your own personal computer what you want to do.  Let’s face it, we are not talking Malware here.  This is standard Microsoft software that is available to most organisations at no extra cost.  Power BI Desktop is free for everyone.

Most of all – good luck.  Another wise leader once said to me something along the lines of “Put forward a proposal and yes it may be knocked back, but don’t sit there and wonder what could have been”.

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Matt Allington

Matt Allington is a Microsoft MVP specalising in Power Pivot, Power BI and Power Query Consulting and Training based in Sydney Australia. Visit Matt's blog here. 

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Matt, thanks for writing more on this issue. Not many folks have sat on both sides of this equation at a senior level. On the other hand many junior people are suffering through the consequences of this without a clear sense of what’s going on or what to do next. This is helpful.

  2. @Matt
    “However if your business still doesn’t embrace Self Service BI….”
    There are problems in “embracing” the Power Tools – take Power Query (Swiss army knife) which is the best of the lot.
    But there are too many flavors
    – There is the Add-in for 2010/2013 – the one that’s always playing catch-up and at least 2 versions behind.
    -G&T of 2016 – which is one version behind
    -Get Data of PBI Desktop – which is the most current – but is not in Excel

    MS needs to get all three on the same page – even if it means putting on hold the updates for PBI Desktop for some time.

    On the plus side they have the “best” set of people working on the product – the most agile product from MS till date.

    Power View – Died even before it started -built on the defunct silver-light – there is absolutely no development effort from MS in the product.

    Power Map – Not available in 2010 – available as an unsupported add-in in 2013 Professional Plus and is Tours in Office 365 Pro Plus – which is the only one that gets updated.

    And Finally there is Power Pivot (Thor’s hammer) – of use only if you are on a 64 Bit office with 16 GB Ram – otherwise is just good for Demos – and comes of age only in 2016 – but not at good as the Data model in the Power BI Desktop

    The Power BI Desktop is still WIP – They still need to give a “official” way to connect to the Data model inside the PBI Desktop file from Excel – and they need to give a “password to open” the PBI Desktop file – only then can it become the Desktop database that can replace Access – but with the speed at which it evolves – there is hope.

  3. @ Sam. Yes there are issues with the ramp-up of the Power-BI Tools. As far as Power Query for 2013, it is updated as often as the PowerBi for Desktop. I have been receiving the update notices since having installed it. My personal machine also gets the updates for the G&T which may be for the subscription-365 method, which is supposed to get all the updates through the products lifecycle.
    But that’s not really Matt’s point. His focus here is about the interaction between the two “sides” of an enterprise. The competiveness or posturing that does not benefit the business and confounds the major separation between good and excellent businesses. I also hear the miscommunication between these two “sides” that often muddies the shared goals of both. IT and B often don’t speak in the same terms despite common goals.

    @Matt
    Good commentary on the interaction between IT and “B” side.
    I am currently resisting switching to our IT department to remain in accounting because of the Battered It syndrome. Yes the battered IT syndrome is often not a one-sided problem.
    With regards to the PowerBI tools, I am using the “unapproved” add-in daily and try to show its value every chance I get. Already PQ has provided several wow moments for the other accounting departments my knowledge has been drafted. In addition, I have to use my personal machine because some projects are just too big for a strict 32-bit environment.

  4. The pendulum always swings. This reminds me of the early client-server days (Matt’s probably too young). The freedom it put in the hands of front-line staff vs. the mainframe stodginess was a source of conflict from the start. Some jealousy, some legitimate concern over maintaining the newly-expanded ecosystem.

    It’s not just battered IT syndrome, it’s also deep (and expensive) partnerships with data warehouse and ETL teams. For a lot of PowerPivot newbies – and I include myself – unfortunately it’s far too easy to come up with the wrong answer and put it in front of an executive. That squelches freedom in a hurry. With multiple dimensions to the data unless you’re a data guru you can make a mistake because you don’t have the depth of knowledge you need.

    Matt’s pretty clear that a partnership is always needed for the best results. Whether IT is battered or deeply invested elsewhere, “Put forward a proposal”… couldn’t agree more!

  5. The white-knuckle grip of IT on the business’ data isn’t a symptom of PTSD from being “battered”.
    It’s the instinct to lock down, restrict, deny, gatekeep, etc.
    “Bring me the broom of the wicked witch of the Wesr, a business case, risk analysis & a project doc entered in the IT backlog queue…then maybe we’ll think about it. “

  6. Smile and tears. Went through and still go through some mentioned points.
    Tough to convince Corporate BI guys to hear Self Service BI specialists. Maybe rude comparison, but “Gods of data vs “self-servicers” producing tons of sh.tty workbooks that flood mailboxes, network drives, SharePoint libraries etc. Give them more power (64bit, Power Query, PowerPivot etc). they will produce even more unsupported solutions”.
    I think in big companies someone should build a BI-culture, similar to corporate culture; promote “work smarter” approach in reporting area. Someone who works with a community of reporting/modeling-related employees, to keep them close to best practices of Self-Service BI area. Yammer, SharePoint, any other corporate platform can be used to support internal knowledge exchange process. But who must be responsible for this, wise IT or “B” side (as more involved in Self-Service)? I came to a conclusion that success can be achieved only if IT shoulders hold this. Necessary software distribution, installation roll-outs, updates, policies etc. – all are IT driven topics. No software – no results in our data driven world.

    1. Ivan, I think you’re right that IT has to shoulder much of the load. As Matt pointed out in his previous post, both sides have to redefine their role.
      PeopleSoft is our ERP for HR, Finance, and Supply Chain. I’ll use Supply Chain as an example as I’m more familiar with the data. Our IT team is excellent and can write reports to fit any data need – though of course they come in phonebook-sized data dumps instead of precise values. Each of our regional analysts have 50-100 separate queries they run for various slices of the data. The knowledge required to understand the data is shared across IT and the business so these queries have been developed jointly.
      We’re simply running out of bandwidth to update those queries, and it’s an increasing concern that the queries are returning incorrect and inconsistent data across the regions. For example, our POs can be disptached twice if there’s a problem with the initial electronic dispatch and it’s dispatched again via phone. PeopleSoft itself knows to only debit the PO once when it translates to receiving and vouchers, but 80% or more of the queries don’t properly filter out those duplicates! There are many other examples when the data or logic changes, and both sides recognize they can’t keep up trying to adjust umpteen queries.
      So we’re working with our IT team to make an adjustment. They give us access to *all* the data – currently in csv dumps, eventually by direct query against mirrored non-production servers – with all the appropriate logic, and then we’ll manage the data in PowerPivot and PowerQuery. We’re just starting out so I’m sure there will be glitches. We have a single guru between IT and the business (not me) who doesn’t have to understand everything just so long as he’s aware of everything being added or changed.

      Now the onus is on the business to fully understand the data instead of blindly taking the report their predecessor ran. It’s a triumph when your measure comes up with a number that looks reasonable instead of an error, but the work is only half done. If I’m looking for fulfillment rates I have to filter my POs by 3-way POs because 2-way POs aren’t received into the system, but do our analysts all understand that? Did they filter out cancelled POs and backorders? Before they would (hopefully) pick the one out of 100 query that had the right conditions and parameters but now it’s up to them. That one cube can answer all 100 queries with the right filtering. IT can help with clean data but we have to get a lot of knowledge transfer. And people coming to PowerPivot/Query/BI are used to manipulating the numbers that are in front of them on the spreadsheet – now that have to understand the dimensions of the data that aren’t necessarily in the pivot table but are in the data. Who in your organization gives them that understanding of the iceberg’s other 90%? It’s probably scattered across 10 different people who never knew they need to talk.

      One last observation – PowerPivot etc is a big change from an additive mindset in regular Excel to a subtractive mindest. Michelangelo was asked how he made his sculptures. I don’t recall the exact quote but he said he sees what’s in the marble and removes everything that doesn’t belong. We’re filtering data to remove it nowadays, not running SQL to add it together. People have to understand the parts of the cube that don’t belong so they can be judicious in removing just those parts. IT isn’t in a position to do that.

  7. Matt-
    Your IT-Business comparisons and barriers are very insightful, and interesting to read.

    I, myself, started my career (basically only recently, in 2013) in an Accounting role. I loved working with Excel (VBA/ Functions) to automate standardized tasks; I learned this mostly on the job, really. I then found PowerPivot/PowerQuery, and became very good with data modeling/ data analysis. These skills got me a BA job in the IT department of a different company (about a year ago).

    Now I find myself trying to champion business intelligence projects, and I am trying to gain the confidence (in myself, and from business leaders) to unify “Self-Service” with “Corporate/ Server-side” processes and solutions.

    It is hard to verbalize the struggles involved with unifying these two worlds. The issues I experience are not black-and-white, but shades of grey.

    I think much of the contention I experience is to do with my youth, and the resulting lack of respect from executives in my IT department. Older, “experienced” technical workers sometimes say that SSAS Tabular does not offer as much as Multidimensional, and then my case begins to slide down hill from there. Because experience wins out… and I am not extremely outgoing/ gregarious.

    Lately, I have been creating momentum in the push for the Modern Excel tools by prototyping solutions, then converting them to SSMS/SSIS infrastructure. My “prototypes” are often times enterprise-worthy ETL solutions, so that the solutions can stick… at least for now, until they decide to change them or cancel them.

    Please post more IT-Business comparisons. And please include these links for the article in the LinkedIn page for the “Modern Excel User Group”. I can share these insightful posts with my colleagues there. And maybe these articles will start to move the ball toward the simple, powerful Modern Excel software that is PowerPivot, PowerQuery, etc.

    Thanks!
    -Brian

  8. I honestly think most of this syndrome comes from:

    1. Not knowing the business user’s skill sets and personalities.
    2. Improper expectation management
    3. Department isolation.
    4. Not having access to biz users that know the big picture.
    5. Not asking the right questions (interrogating processes instead of objectives).

  9. Oh this article chimes with me.

    Recently been employed as a ‘Systems Accountant’, but actually I’m spending all my time on BI. The organisation had libraries of spreadsheets linked to a labyrinth of other files, all on different users’ hard drives and random servers. Ask three different people for a number and you’ll get three different answers etc etc. Huge surgery for the most basic of structural changes.

    Have deployed a number of centralised Power BI reports replacing the old ones, and all of a sudden the board have started requesting new views of their data. Great!

    The trouble is, they don’t want to spend a single penny on delivering these reports to end users. It breaks my heart creating a create a new self-service report, only to be met with “that’s great, but can you generate for each manager and paste into PowerPoint, then email them”…

    It’s like swapping an old banger for a Ferrari, and making people drive it in reverse… Luckily I have an IT director who cannot abide the amount of email traffic we generate distributing reports, so I have an ally there. Definitely a case of finding the right ear to whisper into.

    1. With the integration of Power BI and Reporting Services in 2016, along with the capability in Reporting Service to render in PowerPoint out of the box, you should be able to do this in SQL Server 2016 with relative ease.

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