I talk about data culture a lot, and in my presentations I often emphasize how the most important success factor when adopting a tool like Power BI is the culture of the organization, not the tool itself.
I talk about this a lot, but I think Caitie McCaffrey may have just had the final word.
I don’t think that Caitie was talking about the enterprise adoption of self-service business intelligence, but she could have been.
In my day job I get to talk to leaders from large companies around the world, and to see how they’re adopting and using Power BI, Azure. Before today I didn’t think of Moby Dick – I thought of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina, which starts with this classic line:
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Although the details vary, large companies that have successfully adopted managed self-service BI at scale have cultures with important aspects in common:
- Leaders empower business users to work with data
- Leaders trust business users to use data to make better decisions
- IT supports business users with platforms and tools and with curated data sources
- Business users work with the tools from IT and the guidance from leaders, and work within the guardrails and guidelines given to them for this use
- Business and IT collaborate to deliver responsive solutions and mature/stable solutions, with clearly defined responsibilities between them
Companies that are successful with managed self-service BI do these things. Companies that are not successful do not. The details vary, but the pattern holds up again and again.
How do these roles and responsibilities relate to culture?
In many ways a culture is defined by the behaviors it rewards, the behaviors it allows, and the behaviors it punishes. A culture isn’t what you say – it’s what you do.
In the context of BI, having a culture with shared goals that enable business and IT to work together with the support from the company leaders is the key. If you have this culture, you can be successful with any tool. Some tools may be more helpful than others, and the culture will enable the selection of better tools over time, but the tool is not the most important factor. The culture – not the tool – inevitably determines success.
This is not to say that BI tools should not improve to be a bigger part of the solution. But to paraphrase Caitie… maybe you should let that white whale swim past.
 But definitely not only Power BI.
 He says unironically, before writing many more words.