Friday, July 18

"I'd rather be wrong..."

The point I've heard a few times is, "I'd rather have a wrong number and work out a way to improve (move forward), than spend hours arguing/debating/analyzing what the right number is."

On one occurrence, a client asked me to sit in a mgmt meeting, while I was helping with their business re-org.

They reviewed departmental financial performance reports and a dept head, my client, disagreed with the result of one measure. Swore it couldn't be that low and below target. After a couple minutes of clenched-fists-in-the-air attitude with "I'm going to find out the right answer!", his senior exec boss speaks up briefly with the quote above (or something like it).

I don't know how you feel about this but I'm sure some of you are cringing at the thought of knowing numbers could be wrong in the warehouse and that you were asked not to find the problem. I could just see the perceived value of their BI solution going straight into the crapper.

However, there is something here worth investigating. In the senior executive's eyes, the value of the "historical" performance report, specifically the poorly performing measure, wasn't the accuracy of the number but the identification of poor performance. It was agreed that the number probably wasn't inaccurate enough to make the measure a strong performer.

[I know, red flags are going up but bare with me.]

Could they be sure the measure was a poor performer? No. To confirm this, it would involve the BI group and department managers/staff to verify. I.e. time consuming.

Are they making fact based decisions? Partially. They are moving into the planning stage based on a poorly performing measure.

Is the mgmt team doing what executives do? Absolutely. They are taking the facts as they know them and making a decision (gut-feel perhaps). But they are focused on moving the company forward.

And here falls one dilemma for BI to overcome.

In this example, BI ended at the report or chart or visualization. There was no integration into the management cycle to continue into planning. I'm not talking about the financial genius building a model to show various projections. I mean the outcomes of planning... tasks, deliverables, goals/objectives, etc. BI only comes back into the picture when new reports are needed.

For me, without better integration into the business processes and mgmt cycle, BI will forever by a reporting tool on steroids.

Another dilemma for BI?

The pain to verify numbers. The time/cost to produce new numbers. Anytime you need to involve your ETL developer or cube/report developer to explain how a number was generated costs time and money. It's not their fault, it's the tools they are forced to work with.

BI needs to move more into the "configuration" space. At least needs to move up a level or two in usability to where application building is today. With all the toolboxes, components, and hosted technology available, I feel that "I" could almost write a Web 2.0 app! (okay a very simple one... maybe).

The point being is the technologist's tools need another layer of abstraction/architecture (okay not sure exactly what to call this) to allow quicker time to value.

Caveat: Now don't get me wrong. I think BI has future potential and can provide value. (now here comes the tough love speech) But BI has problems and poor results are seen repeatedly. I want BI to improve so I'm not picking it apart because I have another agenda; I truly want success. Success through learning and change.

Monday, July 14

BI costs Fortune 500 millions

I don't normally like to bring bad news up, although the Business Intelligence industry desperately needs a new guiding light. However there is always something to be learned from failures and bad news. Just like the first "F" I received in university... a wake up call for me that kicked me in the ass!

Dynamic Markets did market research, posted by and found that "BI failed to impact decision making in US and UK companies." posts about industry risks and value creation. 218 operational execs and front line mgmt were surveyed. Some quick stats for you:
  • 76% were forced to make decisions because not all the info was available in time.
  • 63% believe that BI reports are simply reference documents used to justify after the decision is made.
  • 70% do not receive reports that provide predictions about problems or potential opportunities.
Okay, those aren't great stats for an industry that promotes itself as "providing timely, accurate results to make fact-based decisions." A more alarming stat is the cost to companies -- the impact of inadequate intelligence.

$478,868 in lost revenue!

That really hits home for me. That doesn't include the cost to implement a BI solution in the first place. Now if we take a step back and look at the industry. There are a plethora of tools, consultants, methodologies, and training courses but for the Fortune 500, BI is hurting companies more than it is helping.

Now there may be some very valid reasons for this. Fortune 500 companies are large, very complex business with multiple departments all intermingled. They have high volumes of data that BI needs to distribute over a large geography. Plus just understanding their business to build a BI solution would be a tremendous effort. But as my papi would say, "you're giving into excuses."

So if we assume these stats are true and speak to the Business Intelligence industry in generalities, then we should be trying to figure out, in big leaps and bounds, how to make this work. There needs to be a vision... perhaps many visions on taking BI forward. Other software industries have gone through regular change and come out better for it. Isn't it time for Business Intelligence to go through it's paradigm shift?

Thursday, July 10

BI has it all wrong?

The BI market is showing a flurry of innovation and new companies over the last year or so. Usually stale industries or high customer pain forces new ideas to come to fruition. Reading blogs of people who actually work on projects or companies that do BI, you can hear some of this pain.

So what can be done to make the experience for customers better? Well thanks Rick Rogers for the link to The Future of BI, by Tom Gonzalez. Some excellent insights and he may be onto something with his ideas for dashboards. May not solve all the problems, but every bit helps.