Where is the intelligence in Business Intelligence?

Many people believe that if they go ahead and implement a Business Intelligence solution they will suddenly have an intelligent business that will tell them how it is operating and what they need to do. Customers they need contacting will be flagged, orders that are likely to be late are notified so as to keep the customers happy, and the boss is alerted as to the reason profits have fallen from 15% to 10%.

The expectation is that the system, the data warehouse, the reports will provide this intelligence.

This is just wrong.

Just because you give someone a plane and a chisel doesn't make them a carpenter. My wife will confim that.

All that Business Intelligence solutions provide is the ability for the intelligence within the business, the people, to be applied to the data that the business possesses. It also provides the ability for the use their intelligence to further develop their business, where intelligence is so complex that trying to do it by hand is not feasible.

A business intelligence solution is a tool that needs to be used in conjunction with the people within the business. One could say that once implemented, an automated solution doesn't require the input of people, the rules are defined and so we can remove the human element. Whilst that is partly true this doesn't hold tru in the long term. I have not come across  one company that hasn't changed over time, and even if the rate of change of the company not noticeable the ecconomy and environment it is working in will still change. With change your business intelligence solution has to also change and for that you need the people.

This is why I believe Business Intelligence solutions have two problems, one is getting going, and the second is delivering. Getting going is difficult because you need the people in the business with the knowledge of the business to be able to engage with the solution and for many this is a very alien thing and in many cases a fear of what might happen.

Deliverying is difficult because people want a solution that will answer all their problems. As their business is changing, trying to deliver a solution where the goal posts are moving is very difficult and a reason why you need to make sure delivery is long draw out process.

It will be interesting to see how these areas change as people become more used to having Business Intelligence solutions as a matter of course in their business. As with something like search, 10 years ago we didn't have google and bing, but now even my Dad uses a search engine, but interestingly in a very different way to how I do, and that is what needs to be achieved with Business Inteligence. The tool that people use has to be unnoticeable in the way someone does their job. Just like email is just second nature, so should the accessiblity of your companies data. Whats more the ability for you to apply your intelligence to that data in order to answer the questions you have needs to be second nature.

It will be interesting to see how SQL Server 2008 R2, Gemini and Office 2010 will change the picture. If you are in the UK in November then you can't afford to miss Donald Farmer one day seminar atSQLBits on Gemini and SQL Server 2008 R2 I believe this will be the only session of this content in the UK this year.

 

 


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Published Saturday, August 8, 2009 10:27 PM by simonsabin

Comments

Monday, August 10, 2009 10:21 PM by SqlServerKudos

# Where is the intelligence in Business Intelligence?

Kudos for a great Sql Server article - Trackback from SqlServerKudos

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 1:51 PM by jrsansom

# re: Where is the intelligence in Business Intelligence?

Hi Simon,

Some very interesting points well made here and I am certainly in agreement with you.

To me it seems as if the Business Intelligence solution stack is only three quarters finished.

We have all these powerful tools that allow us to extrapolate data from various systems and processes throughout the organisation (for example SSIS). We also have a means to centralise the data in a standardised and optimised structure to fuel analysis (for example Analysis Services), but we are missing the simple/easy to use interface in order to expose the data to end users that require it. Reporting Services is certainly not up to job in my opinion. It is just not flexible enough in terms of features and more importantly it is not accessible to a typical business user.

At present a skilled analyst is necessary in order to provide a business user with access to the specific metrics/analysis that they require.

If this knowledge gap can indeed be bridged in the future, then the power to extrapolate business insight will finally be placed in the hands of the users that actually need it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 2:18 PM by simonsabin

# re: Where is the intelligence in Business Intelligence?

I agree, there is definitely room for someone to come out with the defining UI for reporting.

A bit like what the iPhone has done for mobiles.

The difficulty is that data is complex, and gets more complex as you involve time.

Just look at SQL and MDX, we have two languages to get the data out.

And if you've looked at the MDX that report builder spews when working from a model, its shockingly awful.

Saturday, August 15, 2009 1:49 AM by PedroCGD

# re: Where is the intelligence in Business Intelligence?

Hi Simon,

How are you? See you in November at SQL Bits? I hope so! :-)

Now... relating to this post, I'm agree in almost the post, but let me disagree when you wrote that BI is a tool. BI is an integrated perspective to analyse the business and each BI system depends on the strategy of the organization, the people (implicit and explicit knowledge), processes (that explain how the organization works) and obvious the tecnology (Datawarehouse, Data Mining, Data Integration, Data Delivery, ....)

People doenst like the change and always resist to the change. You can only implement a sucessfull BI solution with technical and business skills.

Just my opinion.

Keep the amazing posts!

Pedro (portugal)

www.pedrocgd.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 11:27 PM by PedroCGD

# re: Where is the intelligence in Business Intelligence?

Hi Simon,

How are you? See you in November at SQL Bits? I hope so! :-)

Now... relating to this post, I'm agree in almost the post, but let me disagree when you wrote that BI is a tool. BI is an integrated perspective to analyse the business and each BI system depends on the strategy of the organization, the people (implicit and explicit knowledge), processes (that explain how the organization works) and obvious the tecnology (Datawarehouse, Data Mining, Data Integration, Data Delivery, ....)

People doenst like the change and always resist to the change. You can only implement a sucessfull BI solution with technical and business skills.

Just my opinion.

Keep the amazing posts!

Pedro (portugal)

www.pedrocgd.blogspot.com

# Why I beleive the Microsoft BI Stack seems unfinished – John Sansom – SQL Server DBA in the UK

Pingback from  Why I beleive the Microsoft BI Stack seems unfinished – John Sansom – SQL Server DBA in the UK

Thursday, October 6, 2011 8:58 PM by matty_p75tj

# re: Where is the intelligence in Business Intelligence?

Hi Simon,

A great article. Whilst designing the solution, the datawarehouse, how to populate it, i feel it is important to think about how the analyst is going to use the data provided to answer the questions posed by the business using the data. From that the system can be designed and business value is delivered hopefully on time and with business involvement during the development phase.

I've been starting working on a BI implementation, although i feel it isn't really a BI solution for the reasons you give - just producing a system that outputs stats isn't going to necessarily help the business answer all the questions. Some flexibility is needed which is why I think that using Analysis Services is such a powerful tool. The question that the business wants to know today may not be the same as the question they want answered tomorrow. By giving them this flexibility you aren't just giving them the chisel, but some other tools that will help them shape their work of art.

I think your comment about it having to have a user friendly front end and over time become part of the furniture is also necessary, without this it will be easily left behind and a technical success will be achieved, but no business benefit will be achieved.

Being transparent about how the data is processed is very important and communication i think is also the key to business engaging in the system and using it once it is delivered.

I'm getting very frustrated with the system we have started to build (for many reasons, too many to go into here). If only people in my team's perceptions of Business Intelligence went past producing a product that is useful that would at least be a start.

Keep up the great posts. It is good to read someone with a knowledge of how BI should be approached.

Matt