Why Business Intelligence is Often Stupid

Business intelligence (or BI) has been all the rage for the last couple of years. It is a central topic in ASAE’s Tech conference later this month, with many sessions focused on how to extract data from your systems and present them in shiny dashboard interfaces. There is a problem though:

Many business intelligence tools are plain stupid.

All the dials, speedometers, bar graphs, and status icons in the world won’t help you if you do not first ground your efforts in what data you need to make sound decision in pursuit of your business outcomes. A lot of vendors and consultants out there gloss over these critical issues in pursuit of the BI sale.

Take dashboards, for example. The concept is that a single screen will give you all the data you need to make quick decisions, just like you can with a car dashboard. The problem is, most businesses and organizations don’t have to make a decision in a split second like you do when driving an automobile. Auto dashboards are optimized to give the driver critical feedback in a glance lasting less than a second.

When is the last time you had to make a decision of major import to the organization from your desk in less than a second? It just doesn’t happen.

Yet, a lot of business intelligence dashboard tools look just like the dashboard of a car. It is a literal interpretation that ruins a somewhat valuable idea.

So, what to do?

You have to start with the objectives you are trying to achieve. What process are you putting into place to achieve an objective? What are the measurable steps within that process? What data sources do you need to tap into to generate those measures? How will you use that data to make decisions?

Once you have answered all those questions you should be able to identify what measures you should monitor and how often. If one or more of them matter on a daily basis, a dashboard interface might make a lot of sense for presentation of the data. If not, a simple report will probably meet your needs and save you the time, effort and expense of developing a dashboard you don’t need.

That is being intelligent about your business data.

By the way, I will be presenting a session with Wes Trochlil at the ASAE Technology Conference titled: “Getting Intelligent About Business Intelligence: Finding the Value Behind the Hype.” If you only go to one BI session, I suggest you make it ours.

One thought on “Why Business Intelligence is Often Stupid

  1. Great post. It seems that some of the core objectives of many associations are difficult to measure in the same quantifiable terms as would be the case in the business world. I read Jim Collins monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors this past weekend and he makes a similar point. Identifying the right metrics is critical and in many cases the best metrics for the central objectives of an organization are more qualitative than quantitative in nature. If this is the case, then blindly focusing on secondary, trailing indicators could end up creating dangerous blind spots for association executives, to get back to the dashboard analogy.

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