Eugene Khazin

Principal and Co-Founder, Prime TSR

I was in a quarterly review meeting with the Business and IT executive leadership teams when the Business Intelligence (BI) project leader was presenting the results of the reporting system implementation that completed six months prior.

As the leader presented what reports were now available in the system, the CIO interrupted and asked a very simple question:

“How are we adopting the Business Intelligence tool? Can you show me those numbers?”


The presenter stalled a bit and failed to respond with a sufficient answer. 

After a bit of prodding, it was revealed that the business users were not adopting the tool. In fact, many of them hadn’t logged into the system in months and reverted back to Excel and other ad-hoc means.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen companies struggle with Business Intelligence adoption. Based on my experience, there are several reasons why BI systems do not get adopted by business users:

  1. The reports don’t exactly match what the users need, so they struggle with it and end up going back to what they’re most comfortable with (Excel and manually retrieving data).
  2. Users don’t know how to use it, even when they have been trained on it.
  3. Users don’t trust the data.
  4. Users are too comfortable with Excel, and the BI solution is “harder than Excel.”

So, what can you do about this? If you’re the leader being put on the spot by the CIO to come up with the next steps, what do you say?

From my experience, it comes down to doing these four things:


Build a system of user adoption through change management.

Change is good. Change without a clearly communicated approach, with strong reasoning behind why things are changing, almost always fails.

A few things happen when a proper change management framework is executed:

  • Streamlined implementation (in this case, adoption)
  • Predictably successful results
  • Realization of intended business results

The more complex the change, the more multi-dimensional and intuitive the approach needs to be. My recommendation is to bring on a team that’s seen these BI rollouts through previous implementations to help you structure the adoption of the BI systems.

With the right change management framework, you can empower your change agents to make the changes needed to improve adoption. More on change agents in the next section.


Find your change agent, quickly.

Sending an email titled “MANDATORY USAGE OF BI TOOL” is hardly an effective method of getting your users to partake in your BI solution, even though I’ve seen this tactic used often. It doesn’t work. If anything, it alienates your users even more.

Also, you know that mandatory BI training from 6 months ago? Well, your users have already forgotten about it, even though you have the “Onboard users” checked off. 

Here’s what I do and recommend to all my clients:

Find the power user, quickly. Ideally, it’s someone who is a staunch advocate of data AND has built out the more complex reporting examples from the user group. Ask them if they’ll work with the technical team in developing the BI platform and champion the process to get others using the tool. This must be someone who is part of other discussions and meetings where they can start advocating the benefits of using the platform to other business users.


They are now your change agent. One change agent is great, more is even better. Ideally, these users aren’t so high up the chain that other people feel forced to use the tool because of their direction, but because they find genuine use cases for it. 

For this particular project, the change agents held “lunch and learn” which worked really well.  “Tell me everything you don’t like about this system,” is a great opening instead of walking them through how amazing this solution is.

These meetings uncovered a few missed requirements along the way, so the reports didn’t work the way the business users expected them to operate. Once those requirements were addressed, we immediately saw an uptick in usage by specific departments.

Increasing the usage begins, ironically, with the right people listening to the end-users’ needs and responding to them.

The easiest way to get users to trust the data is….

We uncovered something interesting when interviewing business users on why they haven’t adopted the tool. The biggest reason was that they simply didn’t trust the data. They had their own ways of getting the data that they trusted more.

Now, how do you convince someone to trust the data? We were fresh out of our “trust me, I’m a data doctor” t-shirts, so we had to pursue other options.

We did three things to help users regain their trust in the data:

  1. We showed them the RAW data and our BI data side by side. For simple reports, we were able to show the underlying data in a drill down on the report so the users could easily see what made up the reporting results. 
  2. We showed them the business logic and process of how we transformed the data. For simple calculations, we had definitions in the reports outlining the logic of the report so users could understand how the data was being calculated.
  3. We created a team to own the definitions of the metrics and calculations. For the most complex reports, which derived results from multiple steps, we had a set of business users who owned creating the logic with the development team, so other users could lean on their trust of that group’s experience to accept the correctness of the report.

These three activities helped us incrementally improve the BI tool adoption, but we weren’t out of the dark completely.

It’s all about the user experience.

For this project, users had several complaints with their BI reporting system:

  1. They couldn’t access the tool outside of the internal network.
  2. The mobile user experience wasn’t that great.
  3. Reports weren’t organized in a manner they were familiar with, so they struggled getting to their favorite reports quickly.

We took these as action items and made incremental improvements. After each of these improvements was made, the usage of the system improved. An initial “failure” of a project turned out to be a case study in BI adoption principles. Great things happen when you focus on building a great user experience.  

BI tool adoption is possible as long as your end-users understand how the system benefits them.


I’ll get this comment from business users fairly often, “The new BI tool is harder than Excel, so that’s why I stopped using it.”

In many respects, they are right. But it’s only harder than Excel mainly because they are familiar with Excel. They’ve gone their entire career using Excel. It’s worked before, so why won’t it work now? The reality is that Excel is a great tool to start with and quickly get results. However, it becomes limited for larger needs. As part of the change management process, make sure to take the time to educate the users on the strategic goals and reasons for this investment. Once they understand the true impact of a BI platform on their role and how they make decisions, great things will happen.

To get users to work with your BI solution, build adoption through a change management plan, assign a change agent to promote usage, ensure users trust the data, and build a digital experience that makes it easier to use the tool.

In the end, Business Intelligence tools are a great asset for businesses, but they are only effective when the entire organization is using them properly. I hope my tips helped you get one step closer to adoption!