The Great BI Debate

I just finished commenting on a rollicking debate about BI – The Great Debate: Business Intelligence but suggest you click over to read all the comments, as they covered off many of the reasons that I wrote The Logical Organization.

I congratulate all on a great debate. All contributors made valid points, albeit from different perspectives. As a corporate performance consultant for 20 years I have developed an in-depth understand of technology and am often charged with vendor selection.

I acknowledge Nigel’s statement that we all agree that “when it is implemented well, business intelligence technology can and does stimulate better management and innovation”. I also agree that more focus needs to be on “how technology solves business issues” rather than how well the IO can manage queries. Nigel caps the major challenge that most BI vendors and business managers don’t recognise – “not enough businesspeople understand what the technology can do”. It’s very much a matter of they don’t know what they don’t know!

BI impacts processes and decision making in often revolutionary ways for many businesses. This aspect is rarely highlighted in BI vendor marketing presentations. They talk about better decision making – but do not state why or how. Having better data is not the answer. Using better data and embedding that use in every day processes is how decisions will become data driven.

I agree with Nigel that BI has been IT-led. This has largely been by necessity. Executives today that sign off on technology investments don’t have the time or desire to understand how technology works. But in failing to do so, they fail to recognise the significant value BI can have in the organization.

BI and performance management matter in ANY size company and decision making must be supported by facts, not individual recollections of what happened last time we tried that.

I don’t read that Nigel suggests that BI is not suited to SME, rather he rightly emphases the real truth that all business owners and managers [not just SME] “must make the effort to learn how they can adapt the available BI tools to their business needs”

Tony adds to this dilemma by pointing out one possible reason for this – that many BI vendors fall short in communicating the value of BI tools to the business – they tend to concentrate on regaling the many benefits of the BI features in terms of how they easily fit into the IT infrastructure and the performance power of the engines – Business people don’t give a hoot about any of this. They want to know only three things – how it makes me more money, how it saves me money, and how it will keep me out of jail!

As Paul says “Managers across all organisations of ALL sizes have the identical issues” But in saying this, business managers need to take more responsibility about IT as a critical business capability and get more savvy and knowledgeable about business technology in general. If they don’t understand how BI technology works – how can one expect them to trust and rely upon it to support their most pressing business decisions. They won’t do this if BI is seen as part of BI. I advocate BI as a separate function that provides capability across the business – just as IT or finance support aspects of all functions. In this way it provides a strategic and operational bridge between IT and the business. The more BI gets ‘operationized’ the more its value is released.

As Bob states one of the prime reasons that so many businesses “go to the wall each year is due to the lack of financial information”. But I would add that its not just financial information that is needed – but market information and operational performance information. Too much emphasis is given to financial reporting – when it is purely an outcome of good decisions around product development, marketing, supply chain, manufacturing etc etc. The closer to the source of the driver of performance the information can be monitored – the more likely any damaging flow on effect can be contained.

I got so frustrated by all these issues that I decided to do something to help resolve these problems so have recently published a comprehensive guide [“The Logical Organization”] covering all these important points – what BI does and what business managers need to know about the technology, but written in a way they understand. BI is about executing business strategy, business ownership of data as a valued asset, data quality governance, business process automation, evidence based decision making, personal performance management, effective planning and governance – and a whole raft of business competencies. Collectively, we all need to include more about these items in our communications about BI and move away from the tech speak that scares most managers away, and sends the rest to sleep.

It’s not about technology – it’s about accepting that the operational framework businesses need today is vastly different from 10-15 years ago and that BI needs to be integrated [using BI technology] at every critical point of performance. And that applies to any function, in any business [small – medium and large], and in any industry.

The Logic Evangelist

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