Taking BI vendors to task

Steve Few in his blog on the Business Intelligence Network says:

“Most business intelligence software vendors don’t understand data visualization. Even their basic charting functionality is embarrassing. They ought to be experts in this field, because it is critical to effective business intelligence. They’ll only become experts when their customers stop asking to be entertained with flash and dazzle and begin to demand effective visual analysis and communication functionality that is firmly rooted in an understanding of how people see and think."

We agreed. I pulled up demo dashboards from a couple of the Google featured advertisers for ’executive dashboard’. Here’s the kind of chart-junky stuff they show off:

Executive Dashboard
Executive Dashboard

Steve isn’t done with these folks. In his white paper called Visual and Interactive Analytics: Fulfilling the Promise of Business Intelligence, he takes the industry to task for its immaturity:

"The BI industry has helped us build huge warehouses of data that we can now access at lightening speeds, but most of us look on with mouths agape, feeling more overwhelmed than enlightened...BI is still a fledgling industry, awkwardly struggling with good intentions to mature beyond adolescence"

That doesn’t stop the enterprise BI vendors from promising the moon. Check out the banner on the top of the MicroStrategy web site:

MicroStrategy Marketing Message

"All your data" and "better decisions everyday by everyone." "Imagine", they say. Yes, you best keep on imagining. How can promises like that not fail to deliver? The fallacy of this approach is wrong on so many levels:

  • It assumes you know what specific data you need at every part of your organization to make smarter decisions. It is rare (impossible?) to understand your business that well.
  • It emphasizes reporting and scorecards over analysis.
  • It suggests having access to more data is better. In most situations, the problem is understanding what the data is saying that is the core problem.
  • It puts tools ahead of people.

We are talking with a growing number of business intelligence practitioners that recognize that this industry hasn’t yet cracked the code on how to make value from the data. Hopefully we can help move it forward.