Enterprise performance management (EPM) was the topic of a column I wrote, entitled "Take the Plunge," for DM Review's August 2002 issue. EPM is a top-down business intelligence (BI) tool that helps an organization measure and manage its overall performance. I have been writing columns and articles for DM Review for six years, and I get a lot of feedback from readers. However, one particular piece of feedback I received from the "Take the Plunge" column really caused me to stop and think. The author of the feedback informed me that my "...arguments appear to be a harbinger of the complete and permanent death of participatory decision making in corporate America." Heady stuff there! Just call me "Dr. Death!"

Well, Dr. Death has a somewhat different opinion concerning EPM and business intelligence and the impact of each on participatory decision making in corporate America. Here it is.

There are many different kinds of tools that constitute the BI space. It is my firm belief that these tools enable managers, employees and members of cross-functional process improvement teams (in essence, everyone who wants to have a say) to have direct and actionable input for decision making. These tools enable managers to base decisions on facts, rather than the seat of their pants or the scribbles on the back of a cocktail napkin. Employees are empowered to obtain the information to contribute – and add value – to the organization by providing input in the decision-making process. Process improvement teams are enlightened by the measurement of key indicators so that processes once out of control can be controlled for consistent and improved performance efficiencies.

From reporting tools that push information out, and query and OLAP tools that can be used to pull information from the bottom up and manipulate it, to dashboards and CPM tools that provide top-down analysis, to data mining tools that provide sophisticated analytical capabilities – BI tools have made tremendous inroads toward empowering corporate America since Gartner, Inc. coined the term business intelligence in the early 1990s. BI has pushed decision making, as well as decision influencing, downward through the organization. More people than ever before have access to information and are able to manipulate it without the need for programmer intervention. BI has enabled better decisions, because decisions made with BI are based on fact. BI has enabled faster decisions, because information is now at peoples' fingertips, many times accessible through browser-based technology. Additionally, BI has enabled wider buy-in for decisions because the capability of accessing and manipulating data no longer resides with those that have the knowledge of a sophisticated language, but rather those that have the ability to utilize a browser and other simple tools that are ubiquitous in corporate America.

Has BI been pushed out to the masses? It depends on your definition of "masses." Is BI accessible to everyone in the organization? Not yet, but BI has definitely extended decision making and influencing beyond the managerial and executive ranks of the organization. Managers are always going to manage. It's what they do. Managing is, by its nature, top-down; and EPM (and other top-down tools) can help managers and executives evaluate the landscapes in front of them and determine a safe and profitable course.

However, BI has profoundly impacted the ability for non-manager employees to have a say as well. Managers increasingly depend on input from others within the organization who have access to information and are willing to stretch their analytical skills to interpret it. Decision making in corporate America is definitely more participatory (read, democratic) than ever before.

Yet, while you can bring a horse to water, you can't make it drink. BI tools can be made available to managers, employees and process improvement teams; but their availability alone doesn't guarantee better decisions or an improved organization. Just like utilizing the power of the vote in a democracy, people at all levels of the organization must take the initiative to use BI tools to make a difference.

Business intelligence has always been about enabling intelligent business. Do I believe BI has contributed to the "complete and permanent death of participatory decision making in corporate America?" Quite the opposite. BI helps the organization take advantage of the vast repository of knowledge and insight that exists in non-management workers.

My advice? Don't wait to be asked for your opinion – get the facts and give it! Long live BI!

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