If we were crazy enough to “think different” about decision support, we might put data in its place. We might see it for what it is: a good tool, but not the only tool. While we’re still in the mood to honor Steve Jobs, let’s be crazy. We’ve got nothing to lose but better sameness.

Some of Jobs’ influence has already soaked into the industry. For years, leading decision-support observers such as Mark Madsen and Frank Buytendijk have anticipated Apple’s influence on the new generations of BI users. To those who grew up on the Mac and the iPhone, most standard-issue BI tools are laughable.

But Jobs left a deeper legacy: the idea that tools should follow culture. Tools should not be limited to what the engineers or marketers want to offer. These guys shouldn’t lead, they should follow.

If we were to run a survey, we might conclude that users want a better version of what they have: better dashboards, “the right data when I need it,” analysis “at the speed of thought,” and so on.

Would that give us better decision-making ability? Maybe. But a few questions would still stare at us like a dog that hasn’t been walked.
1. How to win support for data analysis within the organization? Over the last few years, I’ve found almost no one who will disagree that organizational problems are at least as important in BI success as technology. Yet organizational problems get amazingly little attention at industry events. This is usually covered in late-night stories over drinks.

Many trade events do reserve a little piece of their agendas for it, sort of the way steak restaurants offer a vegan dish. TDWI conferences, for example, offer a course by Maureen Clarry, “Power, Politics, and Partnership.” It’s held away from most other classes. It’s noisy, they say, but that’s compared with the deathly hush of other classes. It’s actually one of the most fun and useful, and it should be required.

2. Best practices for “intuition.” Sometimes we don’t even know what data we’re using. What we call “gut instinct” can be useful. Our own Steve Jobs used it, as Tom Davenport observed recently: “Jobs relied on his gut as the primary guide to his decisions – and it was a golden one overall.” Even Peter Drucker gave it his nod of approval. Instead of rejecting it, let’s analyze it and develop best practices.
One former infantryman in Iraq described on National Public Radio a few years ago how he could look down a road and just “know” that a deadly explosive sat waiting and well-concealed. If only we would teach how to cultivate such a sense for business.

3. How well do we think? Tool makers want us to believe that the right data thrown up on a screen results in insight. Not necessarily. Analysts at the CIA, for example, know that there’s much more to it. In his book “Psychology of Intelligence Analysis,” Richard J. Heuer, Jr. discusses intelligence failures within intelligence agencies and describes practices that can reduce risk. Couldn’t business take advantage of these insights?

We struggle with these questions, yet what most of the BI industry offers is data, big data, fast data, pretty data, structured or unstructured data. Here’s to the “crazy ones,” to adapt the famous Apple ad, who think they can get what they need for decision support – or even those crazy enough to think they can change an industry.

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