Collaboration between business and IT profiles presents challenges in many contexts but for the Business Intelligence area, this can be extra pronounced, because this particular discipline requires great business understanding in order to succeed.
Based on the experiences we have had in connection with BI and data strategy tasks we see that the collaboration problems come from several factors:
General communication and knowledge of the BI team and its tasks
A need for a described method of collaboration
A competence gap between the business' expectations and the BI team's opportunities
Communication and knowledge of the BI team
In more cases than one thinks, BI teams in large and medium-sized companies experience that colleagues in other divisions or departments do not actually know who is responsible for the reporting and analysis systems. You often have local go-to people and you, therefore, do not know what setup actually exists - neither in connection with new projects and support or adaptation of existing systems.
In such situations, it is important that the management of a BI team communicates "that they exist", what they can help with, and what workflows and processes can be used to get help. Internal marketing may be necessary, and this should be something that is repeated on an ongoing basis. Both in relation to what you are responsible for, but also what you achieve in the form of communication of success stories about the solutions you provide to the users.
Often it will also be necessary to describe the roles and responsibilities of the BI team in relation to the tasks they solve together with the business: Dialogue about opportunities, specification of projects, training, and support.
Method of collaboration
Another observation is that there is a tendency for the business to contact the same people in the BI team. These people are either people you "know from before" or those who are perceived as someone who "fixes" what you need help with.
It is of course good that there are different roles in a BI team, where some have more contact with the business users than others, but it can also cover the fact that no explicit decision has been made about how the form of collaboration should be and/or that this has not been communicated.
It is our experience that it provides an easier form of collaboration when it is documented and communicated what the BI team offers in terms of tasks. Based on this, a set of competencies that the BI team must have in order to be able to support these tasks should also be listed.
It is extra important to have a firmly documented collaboration model for tasks that relate to the collection of new business needs and change requests, project delivery, training and support. In addition, it makes the BI team's work easier if there is also a model for general support of the business units - a kind of "account management model" and a fixed template for the ongoing communication to the various stakeholders.
One of the most frequent statements we encounter from the business is an expectation that the BI team understands their processes and can talk with them about what can be done about a problem in a BI context. Often, the business does not understand the possibilities that an Enterprise Data Warehouse offers, or what can be done with a dashboard front-end rather than Excel - and they expect the BI team to give them good ideas. In some contexts, the BI team may have these competencies, but in other organizational setups, it may be necessary to work with a model in which the BI team works closely with an analyst or business controller from each area. In that collaboration, one can cover both business understanding and technology opportunities. The analysts thus become virtual members of the BI team, and together they develop a common understanding of the possibilities.
Another issue relates to the use of BI solutions and especially dashboard and self-service scenarios. Here, users may need further explanation of the results they are looking into, so a different kind of support will be needed than the classic bug reporting. Business users must be able to go through their dashboard with a BI person, get advice and guidance on understanding data and further use of e.g. filters and specific dashboard functionalities.
In many ways, successful BI teamwork is about creating clear and communicated processes, roles and responsibilities, as well as ensuring a common understanding of what can be expected and what is provided. Finally, it will be important for most BI teams to keep up with the business' expectations on an ongoing basis, as these change with the data usage and maturity that the organization develops over time.