This is an Intervention! A Rehabilitation Program for Business Intelligence

Dear Business Intelligence Industry,

This is going to be as difficult for us to say as it will be for you to hear: you have a problem. I know you think you are fine with your double-digit growth and billions in sales. But we see you every day and are tired of the joyless grind and broken promises. You were once so alluring; you were going to make us all smarter and more efficient. Where has all that potential gone? Where is the progress?

We still believe in you—but getting back on track is going to take some radical changes. Fortunately, we’ve put together a 9-step program. Change is hard, so we’ve included some example of the people you can consult for advice along the way.

Step 1. Admit you have a problem.

Who can help? Lindsay Lohan.

Step 2. Accept that Excel is here to stay. I’ve heard you complain that she’s inconsistent, that she works with everybody, not just the C-level execs that you like to party with. Well, friendliness is an asset. We like that she tries to solve our problem. Accept that Excel as the de facto BI solution for the masses.

Who can help? Business Intelligence Inc.’s DataLinks Query makes it easy to pull and integrate data across databases, spreadsheets and text files to create Excel-ready files. This product recognizes a few fundamental realities: a) data will always be spread out across multiple systems and b) lots of people just want to play with their data in Excel.

Step 3. Don’t try so hard to do it all. You can be great by doing a few things well and helping solve just the most pressing problems.

Who can help? Juice client Informiam has developed an array of real-time business intelligence solutions for contact centers—each individual reporting product solves a manageable piece of the overall operational challenge for their clients.

Step 4. Rediscover your classic style. I’ve seen some of the outfits you go out in—the 3D pie charts, the glossy displays, the excessive bounciness of your animations. Timeless fashion is simple, elegant, junk- and flair-free.

Who can help? Stephen Few of Perceptual Edge is leading the way in bringing Tufte-esque graphic sensibilities to the business world. Through his articles, books and blogging, Steve is encouraging better and practical presentation of information.

Step 5. Try looking at the world from a new perspective. You’re so used to looking down on data and "drilling into it"—you’d be amazed at what you can discover if you get down at the ordinary customer data level and look for patterns and behaviors from there.

Who can help? At Juice, we believe that there are a lot of hidden insights in the detail, if you can find compelling and visual mechanisms for presenting the data. Our approach is called Customer Flashcards; use the idea, find a better name.

Step 6. Sharing can be good. Find ways to encourage collaboration. We are all struggling with the same problems. Let’s work together to find better solutions.

Who can help? (1) Kevin Hillstrom at MineThatData blog asks his readers to help solve a classic marketing conundrum: How do I allocate a purchase in a multi-channel marketing environment? (2) When NetFlix announced a prize for improving their recommendation engine; it was a high profile and expensive acknowledgment that a community of data junkies could do better than hiring a consulting company or using an internal team. (3) Jon Udell’s commitment to sharing individual expertise has led to The Screening Room, a place for "screencasts of important software." (4) New online service Swivel is described as "YouTube for data," allowing users to upload data and compare and correlate with data from everyone else.

Step 7. Think about how others want to be treated. People are visual, need a tangible sense of working with data, and have too little time to learn a complex interface.

Who can help? Tableau and Spotfire have developed a next generation of analysis tools that leave established BI reporting tools in the dust.

Step 8. Don’t try to control everything. In fact, people will like you better if you give power to others. Strict, centralization will stifle the people who need analytics the most—the people making everyday decisions.

Who can help? Neil Raden provides the definitive response to the question of centralization vs. decentralization of analytics. He states: "It may not be glamorous and it may not reek of the ’next big thing,’ but little bits of BI attached to the smallest processes and process steps seem to have enormous impact and potential for continuous improvement...the vision of a centralized cadre of mathematical geniuses making all of the important decisions in a centralized organization is neither feasible nor desirable."

Step 9. Your soup-to-nuts, proprietary products have got to go. They aren’t the future. Think modular, think open-source, think APIs, think Web 2.0. It has starting with consumer applications (Firefox, Google Maps), but it will work its way to your business.

Who can help? (1) Pentaho is a leader in open-source business intelligence tools. (2) Enthought, a developer of analytical software applications, offers a Python-based Tool Suite for "scientific data visualization and manipulation." (3) GeoIQ is an open platform for building intuitive geographic analysis and visualization tools into web-based mapping applications.