I often wonder why so many users of business intelligence (BI) technology are not exercising the features and resources to provide in-depth BI solutions. I further agonize over the lack of true BI vision and scope in the development and implementation of BI throughout enterprises: the lectures and publications over the last 20 years have not really explicitly addressed the fundamental differences between managing your business and managing your business strategy. Yes, there is a relationship between the two, the conduit being BI.
I must confess, I had been suffering from BI frustration and, as a result, checked out of the BI world for the past year to recalibrate myself. The other day, I picked up the August 2007 issue of DM Review (first BI article I read in a year) and poured into it. One of my favorite analysts, Jonathan Wu, had written the piece The Next Evolution, which caught my interest. He indicated that CEOs have caught on and are now pushing BI principles and values down through the ranks. My reaction, you may guess, was ecstatic; this is great news, we are now going somewhere.
While on hiatus from the BI community, I became familiar with notable futurist Joel Barker. His perception about Vision really hit the heart of this BI enthusiast who see things not as they are and always have been but as they could be. Barkers concept of Vision is a vision without action is just a dream; action without vision just passes the time; that vision with action can effect change. His view strikes at the heart of BI in how it should be deployed. Barker has been promoting this theory for 20 years. Individuals who can not help but think of inspiring ways to advance business market value are eager to implement their vision, only to find a few decision-makers who understand or appreciate these ideals. Many of those individuals are evangelizing the message (and I might add making a good living) about the things we BI-crazed junkies live by.
This brings me to my point in the opening segment- differentiating the business management from the business strategy management. The last time I utilized a public forum like this, I made use of a popular metaphor to explain the relationship of the business strategy to the plan and the resulting data warehouse. That article Business intelligence: The Chicken or the Egg (BI Review, June 2007) shows how BI continues to evolve with the change in business strategy. I envisioned the same approach in this article to communicate a concept about the scope of business reporting and what BI reporting encompasses. Far too often, the term report is bantered about in discussions, with one person thinking the scope is about BI and the other thinking its specific to business.
Most of us have planned and taken a road trip. Lets use that experience and available technologies to plan our next road trip. I like cool toys, so I have installed a navigation system in our vehicle for use on this trip. Our planning has set up the following trip components:
- Total miles one way: 2,000.
- Travel miles per day allotted: 500.
- Gasoline consumption: 112 gallons one way (vehicle miles per gallon at 18).
- Anticipated travel time: four days([7.7 hours at an average of 65 miles/hour).
- Lodging: three nights.
- Meals: two per day.
- Trip route planner:
- Rand McNally map and direction book.
- Navigation system (while enroute)
Given these guidelines and parameters, our strategy is the 2,000 mile road trip and sightseeing along the way. The plan is the daily consumption of traveled miles, gasoline, meals and lodging. The operating system will be for the trip and Internet services [MapQuest] for the pretrip route planning. Now that we have these defined and are packed, it is time to set out on our journey.
Our first day on the road is uneventful, as we had planned a late morning departure. At the end of the day we reach our daily objectives and bed down for the night. To monitor the trip plan, the navigation system provides us with reports on the following components:
- Miles traveled and route taken.
- Cost of two meals consumed.
- Cost of gasoline consumed.
- The lodge information and cost per stay.
This information is accessible online via the system.
Reviewing the planned route the night before, it is decided to stop and visit a place of interest along the way. This information is entered into the navigation system to determine a new route directing us to the site and then back to the original trip course. The system is used to query lodging and meal accommodations along the way as the schedule will have changed. At the end of the day, we arrive at our destination and settle down for the night. Before doing so, we obtain the daily trip reports, which now include the days activity and trip-to-date information.
Our intention is to follow the same pattern as day two. About three hours into the trip, we run into a mechanical issue requiring immediate attention. This problem results in some additional expense and a significant amount of lost time. We are forced to reevaluate our agenda and develop a new plan to get back on schedule in the most expedient manner. The navigation system provides the service directory assistance and is utilized to remap our course and source for meals, lodging and time required. To make up the time and some of the expense, we canceled the touring event, eat our planned meals on the road, and lengthen our travel time to reach the destination. This effort is successful in getting us prepared for day four, the final leg of our journey.
Our status at this point in the trip is once again in good standing so we decide to plan a sightseeing trip along the way. By the end of the day, we arrive on time at the targeted destination. We now receive a summary of the trip providing information of the daily consumption and a total rollup. We also query the operating system for information on the condition of the vehicle, which advises us of any required maintenance which should be completed as result of the miles traveled. Finally, we query the system for all the touring activity along the way. The latter information will be useful in explaining the extra miles and fuel costs.
Now, lets take a look at this trip from a business perspective to differentiate the business reporting from BI reporting. A basic premise of business reporting is looking at the past to see where you were and what you have completed. Some would argue understandably that business reporting can contain current information. I believe the operating system (OS) is the only source of that information. All of the trip reports provide information of events and activity that had already taken place, i.e., the miles consumed, the cost of meals, fuel and so on. Where BI contributed on this trip was regarding the change in plans, like the touring activity. BI is about guided decisions in support of the business strategy. Our strategy called for us to consume items of interest along the way. As described on day two, we decided to alter the route in order to visit a place of interest. The navigation system (our OS) was utilized to map the route, provide information about the attraction and assist with lodging information and the plan to return back on the original route.
Similarly, in any business situation, there are times when the unexpected or emergency situation occurs. The mechanical problems on day three forced an adjustment to the plan, requiring cutbacks in order to resume the planned schedule. In this case, you might equate the activity necessitated invoking operational BI concepts, as we were in real-time mode, utilizing the online access capability to facilitate the decision process. These activities are the BI reporting solutions filling the gap between managing the business and supporting the business strategy. Our decisions were kept in the context of the business strategy to reach the target destination on day four while allowing for touring along the way. The BI strategy would not tolerate taking a side route so far off course we would fail to meet target date objective.
Consider the possibility of what would transpire had we lacked a technology-driven BI-enabled system. Without the navigation system, significantly more planning and research before this trip would be required. While on the trip, all statistics with regard to expenses, miles traveled and possible touring opportunities would have to be processed manually, a time-consuming activity. Minus the inability to dynamically alter a planned activity limits the desire to explore, as the risks are higher that we would get lost and miss our date. The mechanical breakdown would likely have resulted in a lost day on the trip, preventing us from achieving the target arrival date.
BI technologies offer a wealth of features to deliver information in a robust and timely manner to effect optimal guided decisions. Making use of visualization techniques, dynamic Internet and intranet consumption applications, and robust dashboard Web utilities against a physical or virtual global data warehouse are all components behind the simple click-and-point navigation mechanism. The navigation system technology in essence is our service-oriented architecture (SOA). In business technologies, SOA utilizes computing assets as reusable services that can communicate and integrate seamlessly. The navigation system aligned all of the trip component services (vehicle computer, intranet and GPS) i
nto one delivery system. As shown here, BI is not solely intended to run the business but also to insure we stay within the business strategy or the vision.
The analogy demonstrates the point that Web-enabled reports, fancy colorful dashboards and portals, and in some aspects a data warehouse do not necessarily mean you have a BI solution in place. The delivery mechanisms are an integral part; however, it is the content and its relationship to the business strategy that distinguishes the process as a BI application. BI is a mechanism to bridge the gap between the business process management (BPM) (where you are) to the business strategy (where you want to be, your vision). It is through these non traditional concepts that achievement of the vision of the enterprise in the future is successful. See you on the next trip.
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