Connecting BI to Decision Making


Being able to connect BI to the critical, strategic decisions being made within the organization is BI’s holy grail. How often does this really happen?

BI is well established in the world of course monitoring and correction – the operational dashboard and scorecard takes good care of that. While the need and ability to put together a BI system, along with a DW, a MDM system, and other information assets is well understood, and the world is full of people who can do this and are excited and passionate about this, there are precious few people who can testify to how often these large and expensive systems were actually used in strategic and/or critical decision making in organizations.

Let us briefly speculate on the nature of decision making in organizations. While this may differ from place to place, one can safely assume that a germ of an idea (or thought or opinion) occurs in the decision maker’s mind. This may be triggered by a market event, a desire to get to the next level, or to survive in the current economy. This germ of an idea grows in the decision maker’s mind, until it is well formulated, at which point it can be shared with the group of influencers. The influencers bring their own opinions to the table, the idea gets threshed out and bandied about, and with time a decision is made.

Information can play a significant role in various points in this process. Graphs, charts, and numbers can get thrown about. One must have confidence in the numbers (data quality). Everyone must see the same results (integration). A widget should be a widget (MDM). The right visualization should be used (Visualization tools). Powerful stories must be told (see my earlier post about telling stories with your data).

The unfortunate truth is, even if this happens, there is no way to track it. Imagine if we had systems where we were able to track our decisions. Wherever we used a BI artifact, that link is preserved. If a story influenced a decision, that analysis is included. The ability to tell a story is provided – this itself is lacking in BI technology right now.

If we were able to do this, imagine the sense of importance that BI would gain within the organization. The ROI would be clearly recognizable. At the very least, people would recognize it as being a strategic asset.

There are some gaps we would have to fill technology-wise, and process-wise as well. This snippet which I wrote as part of a TDWI discussion I started captures the thought –

1. The ability to track decisions and capture the basis of them – call this a decision tracking system, if you will. By the way, what happened to decision support systems at least in the world of business? By “basis”, I mean the link to the piece of BI that supported it, if it did.

2. The ability to tell stories about your data. These are the powerful analyses that sway decisions. BI is not very good at doing this – it seems to be missing from vendor’s foci.

3. The ability to present scenarios (again, this correlates with one of Ron’s thoughts). We had seen some examples of tools that enable this, but they went away. Scenario building is critical as it can simulate the potential outcome of making a decision.

Having these capabilities would bring BI closer to decision making and make it more strategic. Vendors need to recognize this though, and provide the capability for it. Organizations would also have to adopt this within their processes.

More on this later.

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