Thursday, October 12, 2006

BI Doesn't Matter?

As Marcus has pointed out, Nicholas Carr is at it again, as reported on I agree with Marcus' assessment over at 401 Percent that there are some holes in Carr's original article, but I tend to agree with his main point as reported in the ZDNet article: many companies spend too much on technology in the hope of a silver bullet, without considering alternative, even low-tech ways of achieving the same end. In the ZDNet article, Bob McDowell of Microsoft was quoted as saying "There was over-hype in the 90s and there was overspend... [we're] still paying the price now." The problem is, McDowell's assessment is too limited - the IT industry is still making the same mistake, driven by vendor marketing departments that oversell their product, whilst under-delivering. Nowhere is this more evident than in the BI sector.

Time and again I go to vendor presentations and seminars, and the sales pitch is the same: buy our product, and all of the analytic and reporting (read decision-making) needs of your organisation will be solved. Let us tell you about our volume licensing arrangements!

The problem is, few of these products solve any of the really thorny decision-making needs of organisations - especially highly strategic, novel, 'wicked' decision problems that require creative, lateral thinking for their resolution. The needs of decision-makers facing these problems are wide, varied and don't submit to the usual requirements elicitation techniques used during system analysis and design. The tricky part about supporting these needs is not the technology - it's understanding the human aspects of decision-making, including their limitations.

Carr's central point, that companies spend money on IT for a strategic advantage that isn't there, holds for BI too. Maybe, rather than forking out for the new, you-beaut dashboard addon in the latest version of a reporting tool, a manager would be better served by spending that money on some people to help with the decision process. Imagine, instead of spending millions on a BI package, an organisation spending that money on the salaries of a flying-squad of decision/business analysts, skilled in using IT as well as in strategic decision making - a kind of internal consulting company, able to build personalised decision support tools for individual decision-makers.

As an IT person, Carr's attitude bothers me, but that doesn't mean the bugger is wrong. Maybe BI folk should be arguing, too, for organisations to spend less on BI technology, and more on people who know how to get the most out of what's already there.

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