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Barry Devlin

As one of the founders of data warehousing back in the mid-1980s, a question I increasingly ask myself over 25 years later is: Are our prior architectural and design decisions still relevant in the light of today's business needs and technological advances? I'll pose this and related questions in this blog as I see industry announcements and changes in way businesses make decisions. I'd love to hear your answers and, indeed, questions in the same vein.

About the author >

Dr. Barry Devlin is among the foremost authorities in the world on business insight and data warehousing. He was responsible for the definition of IBM's data warehouse architecture in the mid '80s and authored the first paper on the topic in the IBM Systems Journal in 1988. He is a widely respected consultant and lecturer on this and related topics, and author of the comprehensive book Data Warehouse: From Architecture to Implementation.

Barry's interest today covers the wider field of a fully integrated business, covering informational, operational and collaborative environments and, in particular, how to present the end user with an holistic experience of the business through IT. These aims, and a growing conviction that the original data warehouse architecture struggles to meet modern business needs for near real-time business intelligence (BI) and support for big data, drove Barry’s latest book, Business unIntelligence: Insight and Innovation Beyond Analytics, now available in print and eBook editions.

Barry has worked in the IT industry for more than 30 years, mainly as a Distinguished Engineer for IBM in Dublin, Ireland. He is now founder and principal of 9sight Consulting, specializing in the human, organizational and IT implications and design of deep business insight solutions.

Editor's Note: Find more articles and resources in Barry's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel and blog. Be sure to visit today!

crystal ball.jpgIt's that time of year when every analyst worth his or her salt is making predictions for the coming year.  Acquisitions.  Big data.  Mobile BI.  Cloud.  Social media.  Predictive analytics... hey! Wait a minute!

My question is: how many of these predictions about BI 2012 are based on the use of predictive analytics?  My hunch is... none.  Perhaps I'm being unfair?  Is it predictive analytics to use all those surveys of buying intentions as input?  What about using trend numbers for market share over the past few years? 

So, here is the Wikipedia definition: "Predictive analytics is an area of statistical analysis that deals with extracting information from data and using it to predict future trends and behavior patterns. The core of predictive analytics relies on capturing relationships between explanatory variables and the predicted variables from past occurrences, and exploiting it to predict future outcomes."  What do you think?  How is the fit?

I'm pushing this so hard because I have long observed that in the most important decisions--whether in personal life or in business--we often trust our "gut feel", our intuition over measurable facts.  How many of us are purely rational in our decision making?  Even if we do make a list of pros and cons, because our weighting system is at best invented on the spot or at worst non-existent, we often end up at least as confused as when we started.  Or is this just my experience?  Well, yes, because I haven't carried out that survey...

Am I saying that BI is useless?  No, not at all.  Simply, that like every other tool, it's good for some things but not for others.  And if you can accept that, it follows that we need to expand the scope of what we do in decision making support.  The name "business intelligence" seems far too rational and limited for what the type of support that most decision makers need when making decisions.  For me, one of the most important trends in the past year or two has been the focus on the social aspect of decision making, as pioneered by Lyza, but now promoted by pretty much every BI vendor.  However, social networking support means a lot more than allowing comments or discussions on reports, dashboards and various visualizations.  It actually means providing a comprehensive, coherent environment where all interactions around a particular decision are recorded and tracked.  And, the last time I checked, much of that interaction occurs before the data crunching starts, and another chunk long after the BI tool has been shut down.  Decision making support needs to go far wider than the majority of BI vendors even imagine.

So, am I predicting that 2012 will be the year when BI tools finally "get it" that they are not the center of the decision maker's universe?  When BI vendors stop adding social networking bells and whistles to their tools and instead figure out how to be part of a larger Enterprise 2.0 effort unifying all social interactions around conversations, documents, analyses and more within the organization?

No, I don't think I can predict the future.  What I can say is that it's up to you to make your future, and one area where technology, both hardware and software, is rapidly improving is social networking support.  It would therefore be valuable to give some serious thought and focus in 2012 to how you could support collaborative decision making in the coming few years.


Posted December 19, 2011 10:15 AM
Permalink | 2 Comments |

2 Comments

Excellent perspective. This industry, whether you call it business intelligence or analytics or whatever, knows a lot about data, but precious little about decision making. I recommend Kahneman's new book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow" or any of Simon's seminal work on the subject.

I guess I'm one of those analysts not worth his salt because I never make those new year predictions.

Thanks for the reading suggestions, Neil.

Regarding being worth your weight in salt... who said being worth one's weight in salt in today's health conscious world is necessarily a good thing? ;-)

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