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Dresner’s Point: Business Intelligence is not Just a Question of Questions

By March 26, 2013Article

Our #BIWisdom tweetchats each Friday on Twitter aren’t garden-variety chats. The group deserves a resounding thumbs-up for tackling hard truths each week. Recently we looked at some preliminary results of my company’s 2013 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study. So far, the surveyed execs indicate that “making better decisions” remains the top goal of BI, as those decisions presumably, in turn, will provide the ability to improve efficiencies and increase revenues.

Seems like a no-brainer goal, and BI seems like the goliath enabler. As the tweetchat members pointed out, better business decisions come from having access to fact-based data in as much of a real-time scenario as possible. In addition, embedded analytics provide the right information, at the right time and in the right context.

But one tweetchat attendee asked a critical question:

“Is the purpose of BI to improve decision making for everyone, or is it to shift decision responsibility to those who make the best decisions?”

Diving into the answer produced these comments:

  • The purpose of BI is to provide the information to stakeholders so they can make better decisions. Many still assume that analysts make the best decisions, but business intelligence should be available for all to collaborate and make decisions.
  • Data discovery only enables better decisions if it’s supported by an enterprise-wide meta data layer that supports KPIs.
  • By embedding BI in processes, we can automate some decisions and greatly reduce risk in decisions.
  • It’s best to talk about “informed” decisions rather than “better” decisions.

Then a member clamped down on the crux of the matter, stating:

“Good BI doesn’t necessarily mean better, or even good, decisions. People can still make bad decisions, even with good insights. And people can also make good decisions, but they’re based on bad data.”

So what’s the solution for that pitfall? Suggestions included making sure the right people are in place for designing and implementing the environment were the data will be. Validating the data, making sure reports match and ensuring data refreshes happen also will help. Someone else wisely pointed out that feedback loops would help.

All good ideas. But I believe the primary consideration goes back to: Who and what are the determinants of “better?”

Bottom line: In an earlier Tweetchat session, members concluded that users creating the right questions are necessary for BI success. I believe the enabler of success is more than asking the right questions for information discovery. Feedback loops are definitely necessary. BI ought to be tied to measurable outcomes. Organizations need a systematic methodology of capturing and measuring the efficacy of their decisions. That requires that people want to evaluate the effectiveness of their decisions, which can be a major cultural issue in many organizations. But in reality, the feedback loop of measured effectiveness is the greatest hope for improving decisions.

Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.


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