Business Intelligence—It’s Time to Pass the Baton

Information management is a means; it is not an end. If the information is well managed but does not have an impact on performance accomplishment, then the technology is without value-it’s a toy, not a tool. We have to keep our perspective on the uses of the information, not the information itself. We have to understand the cognitive landscape that permits decision makers to effectively use IT.

Working Minds, Beth Crandall, Gary Klein, and Robert R. Hoffman, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2006, p, 168.

The business intelligence (BI) industry has done a great deal for information management, but it hasn’t fulfilled the essence of its promise. It has provided a powerful technical infrastructure for collecting, integrating, improving, storing, and accessing large amounts of information, but few tools that directly help people understand and make good use of that information. For years I’ve been hoping that, with the right encouragement, the BI community would figure this out and begin the work that remains. This requires a paradigm shift that I had to make years ago in my own work, so I believed the industry could do the same. BI must shift from a focus on engineering and technology to a focus on the human beings whose work the technology was created to support. After years of constant effort and almost relentless frustration, I now believe that the industry at large will not and perhaps cannot make this shift. It is too entrenched in a techno-centric paradigm. The skills that have enabled BI to build a solid technical infrastructure, which has made so much information available, are not the skills that are needed to build tools for information sense-making and presentation, the activities that most directly support decision making. While most traditional BI vendors have made failed attempts to provide what they don’t understand-data analysis and communication-others have arisen to do the job.

The vendors that are effectively doing what BI has promised fall into two camps: (1) relatively recent start-ups, which are spin-offs of non-BI efforts-mostly academic research, and (2) statistical analysis vendors that have been around for many years but have only recently made efforts to befriend businesspeople. Both of these camps have been working to infiltrate the BI industry with their solutions, but the industry resists them. Not only do they meet resistance, they also find that their association with the BI industry often prevents the very people who need the solutions that they offer from recognizing how these tools are different and better than pseudo-solutions of BI.

I believe it’s now time for the vendors with real decision support solutions to thank the BI industry for the technical infrastructure that it’s provided, but then set themselves apart as a new industry, different from but complementary to BI. Much as groups of people throughout history have arisen and set themselves apart to fix what cannot be fixed within the reigning power structure, the decision-support solutions that people need will only make their mark on the world by leaving the calcified fortress of BI.

Take care,

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