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Claudia Imhoff

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This is another means for me to communicate, educate and participate within the Business Intelligence industry. It is a perfect forum for airing opinions, thoughts, vendor and client updates, problems and questions. To maximize the blog's value, it must be a participative venue. This means I will look forward to hearing from you often, since your input is vital to the blog's success. All I ask is that you treat me, the blog, and everyone who uses it with respect.

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About the author >

A thought leader, visionary, and practitioner, Claudia Imhoff, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on analytics, business intelligence, and the architectures to support these initiatives. Dr. Imhoff has co-authored five books on these subjects and writes articles (totaling more than 150) for technical and business magazines.

She is also the Founder of the Boulder BI Brain Trust, a consortium of independent analysts and consultants (www.BBBT.us). You can follow them on Twitter at #BBBT

Editor's Note:
More articles and resources are available in Claudia's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

For my entire career in BI and data warehousing (going on more than 20 years now), I have heard the expression -- BI should be "easy to use". I suggest that it is time for BI's tag line to change to "easy to consume". Here's why.

At this point in BI's history, it is clear that the technology behind reporting and analytics must be easy to use. Otherwise, who would/could use it? Vendors have spent tremendous time, effort, resources, and money on making their technology the best and easiest at accessing, engineering, controlling, and formating data. We are now able to manipulate tremendous amounts of data -- terabytes and pedabytes -- with "ease".

Unfortunately, what our industry has not focused on particularly well is how the human can comprehend the firehose of data the technology now aims at them.

That is where the "easy to consume" idea comes from. Yes, I have read many articles, blogs, white papers, even twitters, on data visualization and display and we have made some good progress along these fronts. Yet, still today, whenever I get briefed by vendors, they still lead with the worn out slogan that they are easy to use. And the ability to display the data in a more "ergonomic" fashion is useful but not sufficient.

Consuming data is more than just putting it into pretty pictures or colorful splotches. It is more than just an isolated vewing of data points or reports or the manipulation of said reports or pictures. Consuming data requires a fundamental shift for BI implementers toward an understanding of the business processes that occur leading up to and continuing after the "consumption". That is, we must understand how the BI information integrates into the overall business workflow.

This requires that the BI consumption add to the business person's complete and full comprehension of a situation, event, or activity. It must be embedded seamlessly (another worn out slogan -- sorry) into the workflow so business users can perform the next activity with confidence and -- yes -- ease.

Until we change the BI slogan from "easy to use" to "easy to consume", I fear that BI will continue to be relegated to back office analysts or be limited to showing the pretty pictures to non-technical users. Technologists, let's focus on when, where, and how people use information instead of just how easily they can select data, format a report, create a graph, and so on... 

As always -- Yours in BI success! 

Claudia 

 

Technorati Tags: Business Intelligence, BI, data consumption, Add to Technorati Favorites

Posted February 19, 2009 9:30 AM
Permalink | 6 Comments |

6 Comments

Claudia -

It seems the IT vendor industry has long been challenged to just get their products to work, and then work well, often forgetting that's not good enough.

And while we aren't yet ready to go 100% product in context (for example TV commercials where teenagers drink Pepsi at the beach), your counsel to be more consumer centric is wise.

Bob

What I hear you saying (to use another worn out phrase) is: "Provide a solution, not a set of tools." I absolutely agree with you that BI must be integrated into the business workflow. I see BI as an engine to drive specific business solutions. I happen to think that the best business solutions, at this point, are available through SaaS applications, which fits well with your notion of 'consuming' BI.

Claudia,
I hear you saying easy to consume. This is very nice to say, but is it realistic? I do not think so. Most of the time Business processes are not simple, thus the workflow and also the data are complex and not easy to understand. I think this will not change. Key is to give the users insight into their business. I think finding the right KPIs are still key and not the way they are presented. This means that only people who understand the complexity of the business are key and not the tools.

Guido

Hi Claudia,

I think that in one of your own books (the one on the Corporate Information Factory model) you actually highlighted how to "Use" BI outputs, as opposed to "consuming" them.

To me, the word using implies value add. You use a resource to create value, right? Whereas consuming is a one stop shop. It has no implication of any future output other than waste. ;)

So... I say - let's go with "Easy to Use" and help the business people to understand that fancy reports are not the only use for data that has undergone the rigorous cleansing and transformation processes that BI data is typically subjected to.

BI data can be used as a source feed for MDM.
BI data can be used to "complete the loop" and start driving improved data quality in source systems.
BI data can be used (often behind the scenes) to support business workflows such as loan approvals, sales campaign planning and shift planning for call centers.

To me, the characteristics that make BI data "Easy to use" are well-documented data models and application interfaces, with strong governance around connecting new systems to a given BI data output. When corporate executives no longer need to see the data to know that it is driving higher effectiveness and productivity from their workforce, they can start focusing their time on the "To Be" case, rather than being stuck on the "As Is" situation.

As a somewhat oversimplified analogy... you don't put all the guages, dials and valves in a chemical plant in the office of the guy who runs the place. You put them where they're needed - in front of the people who understand their localized purpose and who know when to turn the valves and when not to.

I think one of the big problems with modern management and BI is that executives now think they can micromanage every aspect of a company through the BI feeds that are being delivered to their desktops. From personal experience - while that kind of aggregated view is useful for strategic decision making, it can lead to a situation where executives no longer trust the rest of the workforce (and vice versa) - and aggregation by its nature drops out local context. Sometimes you have to trust the guy who knows how to read the dials in his area and decide when to open a valve and stop trying to second guess him.

That turned into a little more of an essay than I was intending, but I think you get the point. I'd rather have people using BI outputs to create more value in an active way, than consuming BI outputs to compare expected and actual performance and then wasting everybody's time with post mortems and recriminations when actual and expected performance values don't marry up.

Cheers


Jeremy

Interesting, a while back, we changed the term USER in all of documentation to CONSUMERS. So what was known as a DW/BI User became an Information Consumer. (BTW, classified as farmer..., level of control/security and span of data)

Cheers

As long as Vendors arr focused to create very generic BI solution, Easy to consume BI is far away. Industry specific and easy to use BI solutions will help end user understand the BI and its use in there daily life. as sill lot of the CxO still think that BI is just creating reports for their documentation purpose.

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