As many of our clients review their aging BI architectures, they are often faced with the need for technology upgrades.  This need can be driven by vendors ending support for old versions of software or the desire to unlock new capabilities.  Upgrades often bring new features such as better visualization, better data governance support, and a more modern architecture.  However, an upgrade project typically isn’t as easy as software vendors make it sound.  A BI platform upgrade doesn’t involve simply kicking off an install wizard.  Here are the top 5 challenges we see:

1 – Features In Use Are No Longer Supported

As software vendors move to more modern architectures, legacy features, which were often a staple of the tool’s capabilities, are retired in order to support new approaches.  This often leads to a considerable amount of extra effort in the upgrade process, which may surprise groups that are unfamiliar with a specific technology and its long-term roadmap.  It is critical that you understand the gaps in how you use the legacy version of the tool and what the new tool supports.  Similarly, there may be additional features that allow you to streamline your processes.

For instance, we have seen vendors remove support for full-client tools in favor of web browser interfaces.  In certain cases, this has caused our clients to re-evaluate the upgrade, and in at least one case, perform a migration to a completely different reporting platform.

2 – Testing is Often Overlooked

Most clients underestimate the importance of testing in a major upgrade or migration project. A thorough testing plan for this type of project is critical.  Will you be able to leverage automated testing procedures?  What role will business users play?  Testing for an analytics upgrade isn’t the same as testing for an analytics implementation.

One client asked Sense Corp to fix an upgrade project that failed due to the prior services company neglecting the need for validating accurate report output. In their mind, “the report queries weren’t changing so the report output should not change”.  Many times with upgrades, technical processes and functions change, which may cause unexpected changes in report output.  The use of automated testing tools can ease this burden, but some testing and report validation effort is necessary.

3 – Gaining Support

It sometimes is difficult to gain support for an upgrade.  Either leadership underappreciates the complexity required in the upgrade or doesn’t see the value.  Stakeholders may be asked to make significant financial investments or time commitments, so it is critical that they are able to understand the transformative effects the upgrade will have on their operations.  It is important that all stakeholders agree on the value received from the upgrade investment.

We often hear non-IT executives question the priority of technology upgrades, hurting funding and resource availability.  Getting the right name for the upgrade project can help; “Enabling Mobile Analytics Project” versus “Reporting Upgrade Project” reinforces the focus on the business value—not the technology.

4 – Training is Overlooked

In the middle of an upgrade or implementation, it’s easy to forget that the core team lives and breathes the technology, people, and process changes, but business users don’t.  Often upgrades include new features that can significantly impact the user experience. As we would with any implementation, it is important that we maintain an emphasis on training, even with upgrades.

One solution we have seen successful from a training perspective, for implementations and upgrades, is to provide tool-specific training as a user-paced, prerequisite.  We then prepare instructor-hosted training opportunities, which are able to re-enforce tool understanding, but structured around how our users complete their jobs in our client’s organization.

5 – When the Upgrade is Over, It Isn’t Over

To quote Jim Belushi’s character in Animal House, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”  Even when the upgrade is rolled out, it isn’t over.  Adoption is the new ROI.  It’s important that you nurture a strong user community, and the upgrade project is a good opportunity build momentum that can last long after the current round of training sessions end.

One client took the change presented by an upgrade and created a broad user community around the new version of their reporting tool.  Informal “Lunch and Learn” sessions at each company site featured examples about new insights that were being made possible through the reporting tool.  While this type of user engagement could happen at any time, the upgrade is often a good reason to get it started, because without adoption, it will be considered a failure—no matter how good your execution.

Upgrading BI & analytics technologies is about leveraging the significant investment in current architecture while expanding capabilities that are important to your organization.  Planning, with a mindful eye as to what is achievable, is critical to ensuring upgrades occur at a pace that fits within your roadmap as well as the software vendor’s roadmap.

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