How to Take the Scary Out of BI and Improve End User Adoption
The good news is that user adoption of embedded BI is on the rise. The bad news is that it still has a long way to go.
According to Howard Dresner of Dresner Advisory Services, “User adoption or penetration (meaning the number of BI users as a percentage of the overall population of an organization) grew noticeably in all sizes of organizations from 2015 to 2016,” as indicated by last year’s Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study. This upswing is encouraging, but there’s a reason why analytics consultant Wayne Eckerson calls BI adoption “the holy grail.” As one person put it during a Twitter chat on the subject, hosted by Dresner, “The goal of BI implementation is less about adoption and more about ROI; but, without adoption, ROI is less likely.”
This maxim is true during multiple stages of the conversion funnel. If you’re a SaaS company shopping for embedded BI, you’re hoping it will look good to your prospects, broaden your market segment, and give you a competitive edge. Then, after a prospect converts, their adoption and evaluation of your BI suite can either help or hinder your expanding to other divisions of that company. If your application’s subscription license is in any way linked to the number of users or instances of the software, then the correlation between user adoption and ROI becomes even stronger.
But there’s a lot that you and your product management team can do to improve your adoption rate. The majority of how-to articles on this subject, however, speak to steps you can take once you’ve already selected and implemented a BI tool. We believe it’s important to start thinking about end user adoption much earlier on, during the product evaluation period, because, as Dresner puts it, “tools designed with users in mind [help] increase adoption.”
So here’s our recipe for boosting ROI through adoption.
1. Prioritize User Experience
During the evaluation process, pay special attention to the application’s usability. Of course every salesperson is going to tell you their software is “intuitive” and “easy to use,” so it’s up to you to test those claims. The key is to not just rely on you and your team’s impressions. To determine whether your end users would feel comfortable with a given tool, ask them. Request access to a demo version of the application so that you can do some usability testing. Failing that, invite a couple of end users of differing technical proficiencies to join you on your demo calls. Once you have their feedback, look for corroborating buyer testimony on sites like G2 Crowd and Capterra.
2. Ask About Documentation
Users will be more likely to feel comfortable with an application if they have easy access to documentation, but producing articles on software that is new to you and your company can be a daunting task. So, find out if the BI company you’re evaluating could make their documentation available to your end users. If you’re planning to white label the BI platform, ask whether the documentation can also be white labeled and republished as part of your internal resources.
3. Customize the Experience
Make sure it’s possible to modify the UI based on users’ login credentials so that power users have access to more advanced features, like ad hoc report designers, while novice users are limited to tools within their scope, like canned reports. Make changes to these settings as users’ needs and proficiencies evolve so that the application grows with them. This minimizes the risk of early overwhelm and increases your chances of a successful adoption.
4. Find Your Clients’ Pain Points
Here I’d like to refer to another tweet from the aforementioned chat: “To drive adoption via positive means, build the BI asset that’s so valuable that users can’t do their jobs without getting on board.” The best products are said to sell themselves, but no matter how great the technology is, there’s inertia to overcome in adopting it. The fact is, people were already doing their jobs when your BI suite came along, so how can it now become integral to their routines? You may find yourself having to convince management that switching from spreadsheets to BI will affect their bottom line, and the best ammunition for that argument is evidence of inefficiency that over time will accumulate and impede progress.
5. Solicit Feedback
Make it easy for end users to give you feedback—either directly or through management, either good or bad. Support cases can only tell you so much about how much people are using the application and why, so schedule regular check-ins during which you touch base with each client on their adoption rates. Keeping those channels open and well traversed has many added benefits and will help inform your overall approach to improving your application.
6. Cultivate Product Champions
Incentivize select individuals at each client company to become well-versed in using your product and its BI tool. This way, specialized product knowledge becomes nearer at hand for the majority of your end users. Having product champions in house means answering questions sooner, alleviating frustrations before they snowball, and giving companies a greater sense of autonomy and control over their tools. All of this serves to generate positivity and enthusiasm for the application.
7. Offer Training
This one’s a no-brainer: give your end users the tools they need to get started. Again, talk to your BI provider (or the BI provider under review) about their service and training packages. It may be possible for you to collaborate on classroom-style, on-site training seminars, webinars, or other educational programs. Keep in mind, it might be a good idea to spend part of these trainings familiarizing end users with their company’s data. Providing some context to the BI tool will help bridge the gap for professionals outside the computer sciences.
8. Stage Observations
One of the most effective things you can do to improve your BI solution’s adoption in the long run is also one of the simplest. Act as a bridge between your end users and BI provider by arranging for the BI product manager to observe end users on site at one of your client’s companies. Chances are it will only cost you a phone call. Product managers of embedded applications are always looking for opportunities to see their solution being used “in the wild,” and observations provide them with a wealth of knowledge about the product’s UX and how it can be improved. This way, your BI provider can partner with you to address adoption concerns, using cases in your industry vertical to improve the product’s UX.
If you have other tips on improving end user adoption, leave us a comment—we’d love to hear about it!