Early in my BI career, I learned that telling friends and family I worked in “Business Intelligence” wasn’t very helpful. Most found the phrase meaningless and a few were relieved (or disappointed) to learn it did not mean I was involved in corporate espionage. So, I developed other go-to answers: “I help companies analyze data”, or “I help companies turn data into knowledge”, or “I help companies count.”
This last answer, while a bit facetious, was frankly true for many of my clients. The explosion of mobile and networked technologies meant that more and more business activities were leaving a digital trail. Some groups, like finance, had always dealt with data, but for other business functions, the ability to measure and analyze and be held accountable for their actions at this level of granularity was new and at times daunting. To ease their anxiety, I’d say something like “Let’s start by making sure all the things that count are being counted.”
I still use that line but in a different context. Now it’s a caution to people who have become enamored with the latest buzzy innovations trumpeted by bloggers and consultants and marketers without really understanding if that’s what their business needs.
I created a simple graphic to help structure these conversations:
Yes, it’s a two by two matrix, and yes, those are generally deployed to convince you to spend money getting to the upper right. That’s certainly where the excitement is. Machine Learning! Bayesian Analysis! Predictive Analytics! That’s what’s getting everyone excited, and no wonder, because those techniques do offer some truly revolutionary potential for organizations to better plan and execute and improve.
But are you ready for Predictive Analytics if you aren’t already pretty good at estimating next year’s results based on three years of historicals (Forecasting)? Are you ready for Machine Learning if you don’t have a good grasp of seasonality and other key sensitivities (Correlating)? The answer may be yes. Maybe you can leapfrog right to the cutting edge. But most organizations are better off mastering the fundamentals first, and that means getting the job done in that lower left quadrant.
Here’s a simple two-question test:
- Are you accurately collecting and aggregating the data that describes your core business activities?
- Can you quickly get that data in the hands of the people who can use it to make a difference?
Many organizations don’t realize how much power there is in being able to answer both those questions with a confident ‘yes’. Or they overestimate the cost and complexity to do it. Focusing on modern, self-service tools and processes that empower people and reduce time to knowledge is always a good way to make your BI investment count.
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* – we reserve the right to substitute Olympic-sized swimming pools of value in place of “drops” at our discretion.