I have been impressed by company automation efforts that several business intelligence (BI) programs have been able to contribute to or outright perform. Reengineering the human knowledge that operates and directs companies into modern automated systems is never an easy undertaking, but clearly the desired result of predictable outcome is worthwhile.
A host of articles and even books have promoted the idea that a much fuller automation is possible in the next few years, supported by business intelligence. This automation rivals the intellectual properties of the business analyst. These systems will purportedly exhibit behaviors that could be called intelligent behavior.
I challenge this belief as, at the least, an error of semantics, but at most, an error of critical thinking. The question is not whether or not BI systems will be able to truly think. Of course, they will not. Nor is the question whether or not BI systems will be able to create the illusory effect of thinking. Skillful business intelligence architects already create systems that pack enough "wow" effect to achieve a temporary transcendence for them. They will also clearly get better at it. Business intelligence displays apparently intelligent behavior when it automatically alters in-process promotions to be rerouted to prospect profiles that are responding to the initial mailing. When business intelligence reroutes procedures to best-of-breed providers, it is displaying intelligence. Additionally, when it changes pricing automatically in response to demand, it is displaying intelligence.
True artificial thought - the kind that replaces human thought and judgment - should not be thought of as the next logical step. Good engineering cannot yet take the place of the skills and experience of the business analyst. The essence of human thought is the aptitude to resolutely manipulate the meaning of the inputs encountered to create perceptibly favorable situations and arrive at a basic cognitive orientation. The development of this ability within the experienced business analyst makes him or her more adaptable to the business environment. This is what business analysts do - they think. Business intelligence doesn't.
Business analysts interact with customers to identify reporting or analysis needs and develop business specifications. They can apply judgment and a critical understanding of the ramifications of strict quantitative decisions such as those generated by BI. This understanding is crucial to success. It is simply impossible to capture all the data in empirical form that analysts utilize to make the most effective decisions. The liaison responsibilities of the analyst - between business owners, end users, IT staff and IT management - is also a necessary component of successful data analysis and operational function.
Determination of the best fit of data for broad organizational needs is another multidimensional thinking function many business analysts provide to an organization. Business and data requirements are seldom completely able to be coded.
At a minimum, and where many programs are today, business intelligence simply provides access to corporate data more efficiently and occasionally does some automated cleaning of that data. While an analyst's role in manually accumulating disparate corporate data can be diminished with business intelligence, the higher value-added role of thinking cannot be. There are, however, non-analytical, operational functions being served up to automation such as industrial manufacturing.
Business intelligence - computers in general - are better at fast calculations than analysts, but that's not thinking. There is no scalability from syntactical computation to the input manipulation, abstraction and perception - the functions that comprise thinking - based on continued innovation in business intelligence and advances in computational power alone.
Thus, the great judgment found in the great business analysts we call our users will always be required for our success in BI. We cannot hope, nor should we strive for, any diminishment of that role with our BI deliverables. Many tie BI justifications to business headcount reduction, but that rarely occurs as a result of BI. Partnering with our analysts/users/customers is a better approach.
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