The intelligence of business intelligence
Why is it that business intelligence seems, in many cases, to not add much intelligence into anything a business does?
Let’s first start with the definition of ‘business intelligence’ as commonly acknowledged and accepted:
Business intelligence (BI) comprises the methodologies and technologies used by organisations for the analysis of data with the purpose of turning this data into meaningful information. These analytics typically include generations of reporting, dash-boarding and scorecards.
But should business intelligence not mean exactly what it says, that is, how intelligent a business is in making decisions and performing their operations? When looking at the concept of BI from this angle it instantly becomes evident that this involves a lot more than a software toolset.
If the main driver in delivering a BI solution in your company up to now was implementation of a software solution that provides impressive graphs and publishes it to the world, you may be very familiar with some of the following sentiments:
Performance indicators and scorecards are developed and reported, but every couple of months the related targets are changed or the indicators are changed based on the company or department’s strategy to get rid of all the blood on the screen.
The more performance indicators you implement, the closer you get to heaven.
The majority of analytics results are dismissed as data‑quality issues rather than business‑improvement opportunities.
There are people in your organisation that spend more time compiling reports than they are interpreting what it shows.
Every month’s report results are more or less the same as the previous month’s – in some cases for years on end.
The first response to any presentation of an analytic result is to query if all the ‘relevant’ exclusions in the data were made to ensure relevant results (often to be interpreted as “did you exclude all data showing our lack of performance”?).
The quickest way to silence everyone in a feedback session is to ask them what their report results show them about their department’s performance.
People at work still experience the same frustrations in performing their daily tasks that they experienced 12 months ago.
Don’t get me wrong; I love impressive graphs, lasso drilling capability, animated timeline graphics and more, but it is just so much better if these graphs spark conversations on improvements and areas of excellence and how the company is going to get there or maintain it.
Additional to the normal software evaluations performed when searching for the BI silver bullet, the following questions also deserve fair consideration:
Is my current workforce skill and knowledge levels on par with requirements?
Do employees have a clear understanding of where they fit in the company and how their daily activities contribute or impact on the rest of the organisation?
What types of information and visualisation do different groups of employees require?
The love of data:
What data sources do we have?
Are any data management principals applied across these systems?
Do we have data quality issues and how severe are they?
Simplifying this approach via a ridiculous example:
How do you enable a person who does not know what fuel and a steering wheel is to drive a car with only two working wheels and a punctured spare tyre from point A to B?
Surely not by, as first priority, giving them a top of the range GPS navigator with a traffic monitoring function and wireless charger?
Getting back to the question this article aims to answer: why is it that business intelligence seems, in many cases, to not add the intelligence expected when implemented?
Organisations generally think that implementing a BI system will enable them to obtain amazing insights, and with the click of a button they’ll know all there is to know about creating an amazing business. The suppliers of BI software commonly market their product along the same train of thought.
In reality, BI software needs to be implemented as part of a company improvement initiative, involving the provision of a reliable, quality base by having correct, complete and high‑quality data. It’s also important to ensure that the main enabler in any company, it’s people, understand their importance and have the knowledge and skill to efficiently and accurately perform their job.
Getting this combination right will ensure that the chosen BI software delivers more value on a continuous basis than it will ever cost the company to implement and maintain.
Contributed by Emile Olckers