Feeds

The Business Intelligence (BI) scandal: why pay more to get less?

Ignorance is not bliss

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

Comment The eye-catching headline above recently appeared in a press release from “business data specialists ICS". What!? A scandal in the moral world of BI? Surely not.

It turns out that the burden of ICS's song is that it has a product that "puts information in the hands of the user rather than confined to business analysts away from the coalface". And the scandal is that "traditional BI systems are clunky and over-priced [and are] leaving the real business decision makers out in the cold".

Initially, it's a compelling argument. I have to agree that within many of the companies I see, BI use is confined to higher managers - those traditional "decision makers". BI often does fail to get down as far as those at the coalface.

But is this really a scandal? Is it actually appropriate for all companies to deploy BI to employees at all levels? That would be a No. There are, sadly, some coalface jobs where access to corporate BI systems has very little relevance. I know; when I was a student, I did plenty of them. I remember long summer days devoted to the taxing pursuit of removing chicken excrement from nesting boxes. The company wisely chose to issue me with a power hose rather than a BI system.

I also happily concede that there are plenty of coalface jobs where access to a BI system could make a huge difference. BI systems can detect real-time credit fraud; they can warn sales staff of potentially abusive or dangerous customers, it can alert shelf stackers to changing shopping requirements and so on. However, I also believe that deployment at this level is far more likely to be hindered by human/social reasons rather than technological ones.

For a start, many companies actively want the coalface employees to be cogs in the machine. They truly and actively do not want their waitpersons to demonstrate initiative. It is much safer, and the cogs’ performance is much more predictable, if they all simply stick to the script. I'm not defending this as a position; I’m simply explaining why the idea of introducing BI at the cog level is essentially ruled out, in some cases, by company policy.

OK, let's move higher up the food chain. At some point, even in the most cog-oriented organisation, we find a level at which managers are expected to make sane and sensible decisions based on the available information. Clearly such people will benefit from access to a BI system that helps them to extract useful information from the mass of data that confronts them. Technologically there is no reason why they cannot be given access, but someone has to decide to give it to them.

Why would anyone higher up the chain object? Well, for a start, good quality information might allow the lower orders to questions the decisions of their higher-ups. It might enable the great unwashed to see that some decisions (promotions for example) are based on favour rather than fact. The bottom line is that knowledge is power (as Sir Francis Bacon knew way, way before Business acquitted even a hint of Intelligence). If you hold the knowledge, and your underlings don't, then your power base is safe.

Ultimately, there are many reasons why BI is often restricted to the upper levels of management – simply providing a new tool will not, automatically, fix the problem.

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

More from The Register

next story
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.