Opinion The Death of Business News Reporting

Published
  • September 25 2009, 9:52pm EDT

Forgive me for that headline above. I wrote it to attract your attention and to get you to click on this story. I didn’t mean that this article was going to really mean news reporting was dead. (Actually, news reporting may be dead but I’ll save that topic for another day.)

Now that I’ve hijacked your time, I’d better explain why. I’m always trolling business news and this month, the most-cited BI story I came across was Dan Wood’s article at Forbes.com that ran under the title “The Death of Business Intelligence.”

Knowing full well that business intelligence is anything but dead, I couldn’t resist clicking, and, contrarily enough, Woods didn’t say a word to the effect that BI was going down the tubes. Instead, he gave us a story about the imminent usefulness of interactive displays, like the point and drag maps he’s seen on CNN.

No one called out the bait and switch and I wasn't sure why it was there in the first place. I thought of listless managing editors and know that pubs occasionally goose headlines to attract attention. I thought about Forbes’ business executive readership, that they might see this headline and say, “hey, isn’t BI one of our top priorities and aren’t we spending a lot of money on this?" and click through to find a reassuring piece on how drag-and-drop displays screens were coming to make their lives better. That’s a tease, a twist and a happy ending, not a funeral.

I’ll be the first to say I have seen some very exciting and real advances in interactive displays and visualizations. I’m already convinced that developments like BI search and Web service calls are going to do a lot to support views of operational BI. It’s a worthy story to write under a proper headline.

What Woods didn’t detail is that it’s going to take more than a touch screen to, as he wrote, “combine data from hundreds of feeds from data warehouses as well as XML-based information from Web services, video, geo-spatial data and streaming sources.” Things are moving fast, but we’re still quite a way from being able to scrape Facebook sentiment and confidently drop it into our next forecast.

Woods didn’t mention that many of our own data stores remain woefully disconnected and why we’re still hard at work to provide data that is standardized, collated and relevant with some trustworthy integrity, analytic usefulness and context for the user.

Most of all, he didn’t mention that if his vision has a hope of being realized, it is not going to happen by sitting back and waiting. Plenty of smart people can tell you that executives are absolutely, positively going to have to have skin in the game. The 800-pound gorilla that is data governance can only start from the top with real attention to policy and goal setting that will define and steer the governance task down through the organization over time.

To assume otherwise is to hark back to dot-com hyperbole and another round of dashed expectations. At the height of last year’s presidential election, Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” skewered CNN (which played along with the joke) for the news network’s “Magic Wall” that could seemingly rearrange outcomes at will. (Link here, warning, may be NSFW.)

That was satire and comedy, not business news reporting. But the technology is interesting enough by itself to not be cast as a panacea or a funeral for business intelligence. A touch screen is a useful tool but it’s not a very good data blender.  

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