Aug 11 2008

Technology Needs People Too

Categories: General Dave Rathbun @ 7:21 am

I am probably not following proper blog “netiquette” as I don’t offer a “blog roll” here. A blog roll is a standard feature of Wordpress and it allows a blogger to link to other blogs of interest, whether they’re on the same topic or just from friends or family or… well, you probably get the idea. Despite the lack of a formal blog roll I do read a few other folks (when I have time). One of those on my short list is Timo Elliott’s blog.

Timo is a long-time employee of Business Objects. I met him for the first time years ago at one of the first conferences that I attended. In fact, I think he was the original source for the “floating objects” animated cursor that I still use today. He posted an imaginary dialog the other day that I found amusing and disturbing all at the same time.

I call it amusing because, well, it’s funny. Read it for yourself. I also call it disturbing because I’ve been through that exact scenario in real life. Timo’s title is Senior Director of Strategic Marketing. I’m not sure what that means :lol: but it seems to mean that he gets to spend a lot of time thinking about how BI should work, and then talking to people to see what they’re using BI for, and how. I believe that he has also seen this scenario play out in real life, and most likely more than once.

He has some bullet points at the end of his blog that I would like to comment further on. First he says this:

  • People don’t know what tools are available to access data
  • People don’t know who is available to help them

Both of these are problems and they seem to feed off of each other. As a BI consumer I need to understand my access paths, whether they’re through a specific piece of technology or via another person who accesses that technology for me. If I don’t know what’s available to me then it’s hard for me to answer my questions. Which leads to the next points:

  • People don’t really know exactly what information they want
  • People don’t really know how to describe clearly what they want

Some years back the “next big thing” or concept was data mining. The general idea was that you would collect this massive amount of data and then turn some statistical algorithms loose and in return they would point out which questions you should be asking. Business Objects purchased a product that was going to allow folks to use their existing universes for this sort of analysis.

Okay, everyone with an active license for Data Miner please raise your hand… anyone? anyone? Bueller? Bueller? I thought so. :) For decades the focus was on collecting data. More recently we’ve started to think about how to retrieve that data in some sort of relatively effective and efficient way. But I submit that – as Timo suggests – we still don’t know how to ask the right questions or even know what to do with the data once we get it.

Which leads to the next two bullet points:

  • People don’t really know exactly what they will do with the information
  • People are happy to use incomplete data that may not be relevant

I’ve alread covered the first point, and the second is just… well, it’s just sad.

Timo wraps up his blog post with this statement:

Ultimately, BI success is about a long and typically hard struggle to create an information culture where people are trained how to access information and rewarded for using it to create business advantage. Typical BI projects spent too much time on technology and platforms, and not nearly enough on people and culture. Why? Basically because of reward systems and role definitions — but that’s another post…

And from that came the title text for this blog post. It’s not enough to have great technology if that technology is either incomprehensible, inaccessable, or incapable of answering (or even providing) the proper questions. People still drive the business.

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