At my job, we have salespeople. We also have business intelligence (BI) tools. Given that many BI tools start their career serving sales activities (followed by other domains such as marketing, finance, production, human resources and everything between), it should seem obvious that most BI tools are perfectly adapted to the needs of the sales department. And they would be, if the BI vendors could just realize that salespeople are no different from others.
Most sales reps have an income that is determined by how much they sell and whether they are reaching their targets or not. These targets are often set on an annual basis. Many managers also have an income that is determined by whether they reach their targets or not.
Today, many BI tools have all kinds of ways to work with dates, converting dates into weekdays, weeks or even working according to the lunar year. Also, I have yet to see a flyer from a BI vendor that does not include some kind of trend chart that shows evolution over time. Time is the essence of most BI applications and, consequently, the so-called time dimension is almost mandatory when structuring and presenting data in these BI applications. This is all very nice, except that someone who has a salary dependent upon reaching set targets does not care about the time dimension. Simply put, does a salesperson care about what he or she did three years ago, last year, or even yesterday? His or her main interest is whether he or she has sold enough today in order to have a chance to get his or her bonus.
Consequently, many dashboards showing evolution over time can be nice and colorful, but are often of little or no actual interest to their audience. The accumulated result from day one of the period that is measured - often a year - is, however, of great interest to any manager or sales rep whose personal annual income depends on whether targets are met or not. But he or she does not give a hoot whether he or she sold more in January than in March or vice-versa, as long as these annual targets are met. Even if these targets are not met, what does it matter if he or she sold more one month than another?
In these cases, adding a time dimension for these people - and there are quite a few of these people out there - makes as much sense as discussing Albert Einstein's idea about an added dimension called time. Some might be interested, but it will not really change the perceived reality in which we live.
Of course there is an interest to do trend analyses and see how things develop over time. The way targets are set often depends on earlier performance - far too often in the form of "Let's increase sales by x percent. Why? Well, that way it looks good to our shareholders."
However, in daily business it should seem that time analyses concern analysts and certain managers more often than the consumers of the results of these analyses, which are usually presented in different reports or dashboards. Because accumulated results count more to these report consumers, many resulting reports can be simplified as the time dimension can often be eliminated from them. If quarterly or monthly results can be replaced by one single figure that shows the accumulated result for a given period, why not do it and simplify life for these BI users? Believe it or not, salespeople also want things to be convenient, just like the rest of us. In the end, they also want to make money under the guise "Making more with less effort," just like the rest of us. Time dimensions have their place, but usually not as often as is common today.
Needless to say, Einstein may not agree about getting rid of a time dimension, but then he never had a salary that depended on set targets. No one ever told him to "produce two theories, write four papers and win a Nobel Prize" in order to get a full salary for a given year. Heck, the man had problems remembering to put on socks before he put on his shoes.
In the spirit of Einstein, one might also wonder if an OLAP cube containing a time dimension is sent to space, will it then move slower than an identical OLAP cube that stays on earth? If so, logically, the sales figures in the reports that are based on the cube in space would be different from the earthly one. Should this be the case, can I then claim this as an excuse if I do not reach my sales targets for a given period? If not, what use is the time dimension when there are set targets? The only thing needed concerning dates in this case is the date "today," which should be simple enough to add to any report or dashboard, whether it is in space or not. At my job, it shall certainly be a target for me to implement such simplified reports for our sales reps.
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