By Mervyn Mooi, Director at Knowledge Integration Dynamics. (KID).
Johannesburg, 25 Sept 2014
Business intelligence is a fairly hot topic today – good news for me and my ilk – but that doesn’t mean everything about it is new and exciting. The rise and rise of BI has seen a maturation of the technologies, derived from a sweeping round of acquisitions and consolidations in the industry just a few years ago, that have created something of a standardisation of tools.
We have dashboards and scorecards, data warehouses and all the old Scandinavian-sounding LAPs: ROLAP, MOLAP, OLAP and possibly a Ragnar Lothbrok or two. And, like the Vikings knew, without some means to differentiate, everyone in the industry becomes a me-too, which means that’s what their customers ultimately get. And that makes it very hard to win battles.
Building new frameworks around tools to achieve some sense of differentiation achieves just that: only a sense of differentiation. In fact, even when it comes to measurements, most measures, indicators and references in BI today are calculated in a common manner across businesses. They typically use financial measures, such as monthly revenues, costs, interest and so on. The real difference, however, comes in preparing the data and the rules that are applied to the function.
A basic example that illustrates the point: let’s say the Vikings want to invade England and make off with some loot. Before they can embark on their journey of conquest they need to ascertain a few facts. Do they have enough men to defeat the forces in England? Do they have enough ships to get them there? Do they know how to navigate the ocean? Are their ships capable of safely crossing? Can they carry enough stores to see them through the campaign or will they need to raid settlements for food when they arrive? Would those settlements be available to them? How much booty are they likely to capture? Can they carry it all home? Will it be enough to warrant the cost of the expedition?
The simple answer was that the first time they set sail they had absolutely no idea because they had no data. It was massively risky of the type that most organisations aim to avoid these days. So before they could even begin to analyse the pros and cons they had to get at the raw data itself. And that’s the same issue that most organisations have today. They need the raw data but they don’t need it, in the Viking context, from travellers and mystics, spirits and whispers carried on the wind. It must be good quality data derived from reliable sources and a good geographic cross-section. And in preparing their facts, checking they are correct, that they come from reliable sources, that there has been case of broken telephone, that businesses will truly make a difference. Information is king in war because it allows a much smaller force to figure out where to maximise its impact upon a potentially much larger enemy. The same is true in business today.
Before the Vikings could begin to loot and pillage they had to know where they could put ashore quickly to effect a surprise raid with overwhelming odds in their favour. In business you could say that you need to know the basic facts before you drill down for the nuggets that await.
The first Viking raids grew to become larger as the information the Vikings had about England grew. Pretty soon they had banded their tribes or groups together, shared their knowledge and were working toward a common goal: getting rich by looting England. In business, too, divisions, units or operating companies may individually gain knowledge that it makes sense to share with the rest to work toward the most sought-after plunder: the overall business strategy.
Because the tools and technologies supply common functionality and businesses or implementers can put them together in fairly standard approaches as they choose, the real differentiator for BI is the data itself and how the data is prepared – what rules are applied to it before it enters the BI systems. Preparation is king.
These rules ultimately differentiate information based on wind-carried whispers or reliable reports