Friday, December 4, 2009

Business Intelligence, 1923 style ...

Continuing on the theme from the last post - a press release from C3 Business Solutions (a Melbourne-based BI consultancy) that includes some statements from me has been in the "wild" for some time now. Thought it was worth reposting here:

The vendors do a great job of making everything they do seem exciting and new - that's their job, they have to sell software and that's a good way to do it I think. It plays into the general IT culture. However, there is a real danger we will ignore the lessons of the past if we focus uncritically on the new. I was reminded of this recently when I an amazing article - it was written in 1923 (before the great crash). It was published in the Harvard Business Review and it described the creation of a statistics department (providing information for management) at Eastman Kodak. Abstracting a little (the article referred to draftspeople - report designers, and statisticians - data managers), and substitute the name 'statistics department' for 'business intelligence competency centre' and the advice given could apply to a large company today. It really is a stunning article. Here is a quick summary of a selection of the main points in the paper. They might not all work in your organisation, but they represent some excellent ideas for organisation your BI efforts.
  • The head of the BI department must report directly to the CEO. Not to Finance, Marketing or Information Technology. They need to have a direct line to the executive decision making processes; this is the only effective way for them to be able to develop processes and systems that will support the strategy of the organisation.
  • If there are already BI groups in the organisation, perhaps groups located out in the business units (creating what today we would call data marts), don’t fight against them, and don’t replicate their efforts. They already will have a good understanding of their functional area and a good relationship with their clients. Allow the central team to (slowly) develop standards, and processes that those groups use. The central team can provide quality control, and also help to minimise areas of overlap and inconsistency. The central team can source data from those groups to allow for more “enterprise” views to be created.
  • The BI team should be organised along the same functional lines as the business. This will allow members of to develop a deeper understanding of ‘their’ area of the business and to develop relationships with the people in that area.
  • Have equal numbers of people in the BI team devoted to the design of processes of systems to source, transform and store data, and to design the reporting systems that users will actually interact with.
As you read the, remember the paper was written in 1923! The important lesson, I think, is to remember people have been attempting to provide managers with information they need for a long time. Quite a lot is understood about how and how not to develop BI systems them – yet I see a lot of the same mistakes being made. Teams that develop and implement systems that are successful, more often than not, include some people with experience. We should try hard to learn from the past – experience really does make a difference.