BI sci-fi or Market-orientated Business Intelligence

For centuries the Bible was the most published book in the world (at least, that's what we're told in our part of the world). Situations change and a couple of decades ago first place was taken over by a new champion - the Ikea catalogue.  Is there a principle we can take from this that might help BI bosses trying to attract customers (and hence higher budgets) or is it just the magic essence of furniture making that’s so appealing to people?

In the preceding blog I explained how I perceived the BI department of a large corporation as a company within a company. The products of this company are internal BI outputs (reports , data , etc.), consumers are the people from other departments who use BI products to achieve their business goals and find out how good their performance is. The "currency" used as payment is the product usage, e.g. a report that is updated daily by BI, but which no one uses is an example of a useless BI product.

Let's take a look at what options such an internal BI company has when it wants to attract customers and deliver their products to them efficiently.

We moved recently. I am sitting in a freshly-furnished apartment and there is a parallel with Ikea running in my head. They make furniture and they wish to sell it as efficiently as possible. So they exhibit it in a large hall. The hall is divided into areas, each related to a particular purpose and each signposted distinctly to show where things are. Goods are shown clearly - assembled together into understandable units, each item together with its related products.

Everyone’s been to Ikea. Let’s imagine for a moment that they removed their display room walkthrough. Customers were no longer led down a path between assembled furniture and instead were sent them directly to the self-service store. You would choose the products according to the miniature schematic picture on the boxes, have no idea of the product size or whether you have all its parts. The management of the shop would focus on things like a unified system for product naming, the optimisation and placement of goods on shelves or on the methodology of prefixing numeric codes of sub-products etc.

The preceding paragraph is an illustration of a system that knows how to manage itself, but does not try to make itself sufficiently useful to its surroundings. With some exaggeration, one can say that this is the case of BI departments in many corporations today. Why is this so? Perhaps it’s a work style transferred from data warehouses - to build and operate a DW is such a complex task that to manage it and avoid chaos and loss of confidence requires responsible experts to be primarily engaged in maintaining order in the system. Moreover, there aren’t that many consumers who look directly into a DW – most of them use reporting systems a level above the DW.

The size of BI department budgets in recent years have become harder and harder to defend. BI leaders often have trouble justifying the benefits of existing investments let alone finding funding for new ones. Ikea reduced to a self-service store and attracting far fewer consumers would have a similar difficulty in explaining its usefulness and would need a larger budget to maintain its own smooth functioning.

Making the usefulness of BI understandable to top-management can be achieved, however, if BI focuses on business users. BI departments need to build good display rooms for their "products" and attract customers to their "BI e-shops" where anyone can easily find what s/he needs, understand it or simply obtain an explanation from a "shop-assistant".

How such a BI e-shop should look will be described in my next blog, BI e-shop or "how to sell the business outputs of the BI department" in a couple of weeks' time.