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10 Opportunities for Business Intelligence Research

Originally published August 16, 2011

"Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises." – Demosthenes

I recently attended the International Conference on Information Technology Interfaces (ITI 2011) in Cavtat, Croatia, as a keynote speaker. This is an excellent annual conference that is sponsored by the University of Zagreb and expertly coordinated by Dr. Vesna Lužar-Stiffler. My talk was entitled “Business Intelligence: Opportunities for Research.” I thought I would share the ten opportunities I identified in this presentation with BeyeNETWORK subscribers.

1. Business Intelligence and Censorship

I read an article in The Wall Street Journal (March 28, 2011) that was entitled “U.S. Products Help Block Mideast Web.”  The article discusses how telecommunication companies can use Netsweeper’s Internet content filtering and web threat management solutions. Netsweeper is marketed to educational institutions, government organizations, businesses, service providers and OEM partners around the world to block web content that the client deems to be inappropriate. Relative to the Mideast, the story mentions that the product is used to block content by using a pre-established list of more than 90 categories to meet government rules and regulations based on social, religious, or political ideals.

Then, The New York Times reported (June 12, 2011) that the Obama administration was leading a global effort to launch a “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

Besides the fact that the U.S. seems to be facilitating both Internet censorship and ways around it, I could not help but wonder about the impact of censorship on business intelligence. If organizations are censoring information, then some people surely have more access to data than others. This obviously presents a clear disparity in BI sense-making capabilities.

I have no idea how much organizations censor data, but it seems to me that this is a topic worth exploring. Censorship compromises what people know, what data they base their decisions upon, and eventually what they do. By manipulating data, organizations may inadvertently adversely affect the integrity of their own decision-making capabilities and compromise firm actions in unintended ways. From a research perspective, it would be interesting to know how much censorship occurs in firms and whether employees find measures to thwart it.

2. Business Intelligence Education

I recently reported the results of a survey of BI professionals. One of the findings was that these individuals recognize the need for more BI talent and for continuing BI education. The problem is that there are only a handful of academic institutions worldwide that offer comprehensive business intelligence/analytics programs that can address this issue. While there are institutions that offer BI courses or MBA BI concentrations, these are inadequate for developing the full repertoire of skills needed by these professionals. Hopefully, other institutions of higher education will recognize the educational need here and develop new BI-specific comprehensive programs. However, to do this, model BI undergraduate and graduate curriculums will need to be developed.

3. Business Intelligence Organization

There are basically three means by which business intelligence can be organized: centralized, decentralized, or automated. A centralized approach tends to focus on BI competency centers, while the decentralized approach focuses on client mentoring and support. Automated business intelligence is a whole other animal: the process of developing, deploying, and maintaining BI solutions is streamlined with automation and BI solutions are delivered on demand. Each approach provides its own rationale and proposes its own benefits while typically condemning the other approaches. Which is the better or preferred approach is open to opinion and experience. Hence, I suspect that this topic is one that should be scrutinized in more depth to establish parameters for choosing and deploying any one of these options.

4. Business Intelligence and Value Creation

The Gartner Group has reported that business intelligence and value creation are of key interest to CIOs. Gartner states that in 2011, CIOs are focusing on three key things: increasing enterprise growth, reducing costs, and attracting new customers. It seems to me that these are things that CIOs should be focusing on every year! Anyhow, what is not clear is how business intelligence is impacting these objectives. Research should provide evidence as to how business intelligence is making a tangible difference in these endeavors.

5. Crime Management

According to the company Corporate Crime Management (CCM), crime is escalating at an alarming rate. Some of the reasons CCM cites for increased crime are reduced corporate loyalties, global economic turmoil, and technology. In fact, an article in The Wall Street Journal (February 4, 2011) reported that a Deloitte survey revealed that 79% of strategic buyers aborted or renegotiated a deal over corruption issues.

More research is needed to understand the impact of business intelligence on crime management. In corporate crime management, we need to better comprehend opportunities and issues in investigative intelligence, risk analysis, as well as counter and competitive intelligence. In addition, it would probably be prudent to understand the successes and failures when business intelligence is used to modify policing tactics in public crime management.

6. Crisis Management

It is important to explore how business intelligence is employed to help organizations learn about and deal with a major unpredicted event. In other words, how good is business intelligence at crisis prevention and management? A crisis involves incidents that can threaten or do harm to an organization, its stakeholders, or the general public. Heaven knows that there have been a lot of calamities recently – upheaval in the Mideast, European economic uncertainties, and the U.S. debt and its credit rating! More research is warranted to understand how and when firms become aware of these situations and whether business intelligence helps them to prevent or manage any associated risk.

7. Customer Feedback Management

According to Gleanster Research business intelligence can be used to improve customer feedback management. Gleanster’s research finds that customer problem resolution effectiveness, customer retention, and customer satisfaction can all be increased by the use of business intelligence. Research needs to be done to better understand how business intelligence is improving the customer experience via the capture, analysis, and actions taken based on customer feedback. Moreover, critical success factors and mitigating issues need to be identified.

8. Location Data

Businesses are being built and enhanced with people’s cell data! For example, insurers, carmakers, and shopping malls want cell data to track customers. And it is pretty easy to get since 47 of the 101 most popular cell phone apps (e.g., iPhone and Android) can share location information with interested parties. The Dutch government even used it to set speed traps! Although the Senate plans a hearing to consider a law to protect consumer privacy, it is currently legal to use this data in the U.S. Hence, it seems reasonable to call for research that explores how business intelligence is utilizing this data and to understand how it is being combined with other data to complement and expand BI analyses and related decision-making activities.

9. Mobile Business Intelligence

A study by Howard Dresner (March 16, 2011) reports that mobile business intelligence will grow from 10% of the BI applications market to 90% in 24 months. The problem is no one is quite sure how it will be used. Moreover, there is no proof that this concept will work, despite the assertions that it will enable BI usage on shop floors, in conference rooms, and for anytime/anywhere decision making. It is asserted that the most important mobile BI apps will be alerts, KPI (key performance indicator) monitoring, balanced scorecard, and Six Sigma, but there is little empirical evidence that these mobile BI efforts can be effectively implemented. The research opportunity is to follow the development of mobile business intelligence and ascertain the underlying causes for both successes and failures as it is deployed.

10. Sentiment Analysis

Business intelligence is being used to discover what you do, how you do it, where you do it, and now how you feel about what you do!  Sentiment analysis is about mining the web for feelings, not facts. Social media is an incredibly rich vein for market intelligence (opinion data) obtained by monitoring blogs, online forums, and social networking sites for trends in opinions. Essentially, sentiment analysis attempts to translate the whims of human emotion into hard data.

BI research should explore this trend and report how it is being used, how it complements or supplements other data, and whether its use creates any unanticipated consequences or issues. Clearly there are consumer concerns about how this data is acquired and shared. Nevertheless, when it is used, how valuable are these insights for business intelligence?  Feelings can be both volatile and transient so just how much credence should business intelligence afford them?

While a lot of academic BI research examines technology-related issues and the impact of analytic applications, it is clear to me that there is a wealth of other important issues that this field must confront. The ten topics listed here should surely be among them! 

  • Richard HerschelRichard Herschel

    Richard is Chair of the Department of Decision & System Sciences at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Before becoming an educator, he worked at Maryland National Bank, Schering-Plough Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, and Columbia Pictures as a systems analyst. He received his BA in journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University, his Master’s in Administrative Sciences from Johns Hopkins, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University in Management Information Systems. He has earned the Certified Systems Professional designation, and he has written extensively about both knowledge management and business intelligence. Dr. Herschel can be reached at herschel@sju.edu.

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

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Posted August 18, 2011 by david.white@aberdeen.com

I'm inclined to agree on mobile business intelligence.  Our research from last December found that early adoption was mostly among senior executives, although 47% of organizations had started to deploy mobile BI to their outside sales teams.  Too early to get a good sense of the business benefits that those sales teams were gaining from their use of mobile analytics through.  We have an updated end-user survey that we plan to issue next month, so hopefully we will start to see some tangible benefits as those early deployments start to mature.

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Posted August 17, 2011 by

Great ideas Dr. Herschel.  Regarding #3 Business Intelligence Organization - I experienced this need just a few months ago when writing a thesis for a graduate program in BI.  My intended topic was on organizational design for business intelligence but I found very little current research on the topic.  Time did not permit original research so I chose a different topic.  However, should I ever find the opportunity and funding for a Ph.D., I already have a dissertation topic and a research design sketched out!

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