Business Intelligence - The Unconquered Territories

Posted by Karthikeyan Sankaran
September 9th, 2008

Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors, writes this way in the book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and I quote:

“As the nineteenth century drew to a close, scientists could reflect with satisfaction that they had pinned down most of the mysteries of the physical world: electricity, magnetism, gases, optics, kinetics, and statistical mechanics, to name just a few. If a thing could be oscillated, accelerated, perturbed, distilled, combined, weighed or made gaseous they had done it, and in the process produced a body of universal laws so weighty and majestic that we still tend to write them out in capitals. The whole world clanged and chuffed with the machinery and instruments that their ingenuity had produced. Many wise people believed that there was nothing much left for science to do”

Now we all know how much science did invent / discover in the 20th century.

Sitting now in 2008, sometimes when I hear people speaking about BI, I get a feeling that we are on the verge of accomplishing everything in this space. Alas! That is “as far as it gets” from the truth– There are so many “unconquered territories” in BI that if you were thinking that the past was challenging enough, it is time to get rejuvenated for wresting with bigger challenges in the future.

My top ten “Unconquered Territories” for BI Practitioners are:

1) Majority of BI decision making is geared towards analysis of structured data. Usage of unstructured data is minimal at best and non-existent in many cases.

2) There is still lot of work to be done in integrating the process rigor of a Six Sigma or a quality management methodology (say CMMI) to the BI paradigm. Unless that is done, BI will not be sustainable in the long run.

3) Lack of valuation techniques. BI systems are corporate assets like Human Resources, Brands etc. and there has to be concrete models for valuing them.

4) Predictive Analytics / Data Mining are used only by handful of organizations effectively. There is no shortage of techniques but the world is probably short of people who can apply high-end analytical techniques to solve “common-sense”, real world business problems.

5) Let’s face it – There are technology limitations. Operational BI (Lack of real-time data access), Guided analytics (Lack of comprehensive business metadata), Information as a Service (Lack of SOA based BI architecture) are some of those technology limitations that come to my mind.

6) Data Quality is a nightmare in most organizations. Either the data is already ‘dirty’ or there is really no governance process which leaves the only option that data will become ‘dirty’ eventually.

7) Here is a mindset challenge – BI Practitioners, in my view, need to develop a higher level of “business process” oriented thinking that seems to be lacking given the ever increasing technology complexity of BI tools.

8) Simulations!! – Businesses run with a lot of interdependent variables. Unless a simulation model of the business is built into the analytical landscape, there is really no way of having a handle on the future state of business. Of course, ‘Black Swans’ will continue to exist but that’s a different subject matter altogether.

9) On demand analytics – I accept that am being a little unfair here to expect BI to catch up with the nascent world of “cloud” computing so early. But the fact remains that much work can be done in this area of “Cloud Analytics”.

10) Packaged analytics is a step in the right direction – Organizations can quickly deploy analytical packages and spend more time on how to optimize business decisions. Having said that, the implementation difficulty combined with the lack of flexibility in packages are areas of concern to be alleviated.

Each one of us will have our own list of “unconquered territories”. Probably it is worthwhile to put everything down on paper and nudge your BI environments towards conquering all those areas and beyond.

Thanks for reading. Please do share your thoughts.

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