I went to a great Business Intelligence panel last week put on by CSIA, Colorado’s Technology Association. It was a combination of presentations by IBM and JCB Partners, along with a panel discussion that also included a couple of local executives who had successfully implemented BI at their companies.

One of my favorite questions from the audience was not a surprising one: a woman asked how they had measured the ROI of business intelligence projects. Unlike many of the other questions, the panelists did not have an easy or straightforward answer. A couple of the panelists did not think ROI could be measured quantitatively. The consultant on the panel had a more solid answer, but still acknowledged the challenge compared to other investments. It seemed a little ironic to me that business intelligence, which at its core is about measuring and managing performance, can’t be measured and managed itself.

So I just did a quick search on “ROI Business Intelligence” and came across this article titled “Business intelligence ROI: Five keys to justifying BI investments”, which basically backs up the conclusion of the panel with the following conclusions: executives just need to embrace it, the benefits are soft, trying to drive to hard metrics is hard and unnecessary, etc.

So the bigger question is as technology moves more towards providing better information to influence decisions … will hard benefits become a thing of the past? In the past, more technology investments were about improving productivity than they are today, and productivity improvements are much easier to quantify.