Better BI

Chris Gerrard – Exploring the world of Better Business Intelligence

Does your dog bite?

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1. Is this funny? Insp. Clouseau checks in
2. Why is this funny?
3. What does this have to do with BI?


2. See #3.

3. Quite a lot. This joke goes straight to the heart of BI.

As BI professionals we’re responsible for helping our business partners gain the information and insights they need from their data.

Sometimes they understand precisely what they want to know and how it’s represented in the data. In which case we’re responsible for removing the barriers between them and their data, given the opportunities and constraints of the environment we’re working in.

This is the idealized scenario that’s the outcome of the traditional approach

More commonly our partner, call him Jim, asks us: “Does your dog bite?” when he really means: “Will this dog bite me?”

It’s our responsibility to recognize this when it happens and work with Jim to get to the point where two conditions are true: Jim asks the right question, the one he really wants the answer to; and he receives the correct answer to that question, in this case, most likely some variation of: “Yes”, “No”, or “I don’t know.”

Now, you might be thinking: “Why not cut to the quick, take the short cut, and just answer Jim’s real question for him?” And this might seem like a reasonable thing. It’s what the naive BI practitioner may well do. After all, isn’t Jim getting the information he’s looking for, and maybe avoiding getting bitten in the bargain?

The world of BI isn’t the world of Clouseau, where it would be perfectly OK to reply: “I don’t know, it’s not my dog”, where the only real problem is that the joke wouldn’t work.

Our responsibilities as BI professionals are multifold, and include helping our partners, Jim included, in multiple dimensions. Our primary responsibility is, of course, to ensure that they get the information they need. But we also need to help them learn to help themselves (Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson), and this means helping them develop the awareness of the subtleties, complexities and consequences of precision in thinking and communication. This is in some circles considered heretical, crossing some boundary of propriety where we’re not permitted to presume that our partners’ cognitive and intellectual skills aren’t up to snuff. This usually gets phrased as something along the lines of: “You can’t insult our clients, you just need to give them what they need.” To which we say: “Dammit, Jim. We’re BI Professionals, not mollycoddling data weenies.”

The more we help our partners understand that they can, and should, simply ask for the information they want, and how to do it, the better off they will be. They will be able to get the information and insights they need faster, easier, and with less effort. This is better for everyone.

Written by Chris Gerrard

January 20, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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