Four BS BI Trends (And One Good One)

A recent CIO magazine article listed five trends in BI (business intelligence). The article reports that Gartner found BI to be the “number one technology issue for 2007” (which I find incredibly hard to believe). Here’s my take on the trends:

BI Trend #1: There’s so much data, but too little insight.

My take: This isn’t a “trend.” It’s an observation. And an old one at that. This was the case when I started working.

According to a Gartner analyst “organizations are recognizing they don’t have the information they need to manage the business.” Hogwash. They have plenty of information, or more precisely, data. And while it’s true that disparate apps and organizational silos are barriers to accessing the data, the bigger issue is that few firms have figured out which pieces of data is truly the most important to making strategic decisions. As a result, online behavior data sits in one data store, while call center interaction data sits in another data warehouse.

BI Trend #2: Market consolidation means fewer choices for BI users.

My take: Again, not exactly a trend. Even worse, it just states the obvious. Musta took a genius to figure this one out.

BI Trend #3: BI expands from the board room to the front lines.

My take: It’s the other way around. To help explain why, it’s interesting to note the example the article provides to support this trend:

“integrating BI into operational processes could allow companies to react faster to changing business conditions, for example, alerting call center worker to offer a particular promotion or to potential credit card fraud.”

The example embodies an erroneous assumption: That it’s the boardroom that has its finger on the pulse of changing business conditions.

It’s the other way around. It’s the people on the front lines who sniff out the changing conditions — long before it works its way up to the boardroom. If anything, BI will expand from the front line to the board room.

BI Trend #4: The convergence of structured and unstructured data will create better business intelligence.

My take: Huh? This claim basically contradicts trend #1. Structured and unstructured data have been converging for years. If this hasn’t produced more insights to date (the contention of trend #1), then why will it happen next year or the year after?

The reality is that combining structured data with unstructured data does not, in and of itself, “create” better business intelligence. Better business intelligence is created when managers use structured and unstructured data in ways that they haven’t been used before. And this isn’t going to happen for a few years, and here’s why: Because us old guys are too stuck in our decision-making ways. Translation: We don’t know how to incorporate unstructured data into strategic decisions.

BI Trend #5: Applications will provide new views of BI data.

My take: Bingo. According to the article, “the next generation of BI apps is moving beyond the pie charts and bar charts into more visual depictions of data and trends.” According to the analysts quoted in the article, “alternative ways of displaying complex data — to increase interaction and usefulness — is an area that will continue growing in the coming years.”

This is the exciting trend in the BI space — tools that help managers assimilate and digest data in new ways. Tools that go beyond those silly little gas gauge icons in dashboards that BI vendors think help execs monitor trends.

And therein lies my frustration with the article — four BS BI trends, all leading up to the one trend worth expounding on. And the article devotes just three measly sentences to it.

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8 thoughts on “Four BS BI Trends (And One Good One)

  1. Ron,

    You’ve nailed it once again. As a guy who’s spent so much time on both sides of a database I get frustrated reading articles describing BI as some sort of product you can run out and buy. You can’t buy BI any more than you can buy flexibility or leadership. These are things that have to be refined out of raw materials — the *right* raw materials — over years and years. Your take on #3 is dead on: hoping that a BI tool can suddenly conjure business acumen out of your front line is ridiculous. BI tools should be used to make sense of the information that your people on the ground already have, but aren’t great at sharing and can’t aggregate at a corporate level.

  2. Ron, I love it when you get out your scalpel and start hacking away at the fat. LOVE it. And you are dead-on about ‘intelligence’ coming from the front line. That is why the number one way for getting the ground truth and making effective, meaningful decisions is Tom Peters’ technique of MBWA…. Managing By Walking Around.

  3. Dan– You just gave me an idea for my next blockbuster product: LIABility (leadership-in-a-box-ibility). I’m gonna make millions.

  4. Cranky!

    I’d challenge #5 as well. “Alternative ways of displaying complex data” are not very useful if:

    1. You don’t know which data is important
    2. You don’t know how to take action on the analysis

    I’ve been teaching people data-based Marketing concepts for years, and when you sit them down and explain it to them, they generally get it. But they have to want to learn it. And as far as most Marketing folks go, I don’t think they want to learn it.

    Not sexy enough?

  5. Ron, Great post.

    Regarding #5, a few months back an there was an interesting article in BI review which challenged that BI vendors approach to displaying complex data is not founded on any decision making theory.

    And in my opinion, that underlying issue will need to be tackled before any fancy data display has any impact.

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