After about three quarters of an oatmeal stout, my old friend Sam the BI developer wondered aloud, "What is the ideal dashboard?" There was no need to call Steve Few or Edward Tufte. I had the answer right away. (I had been sipping an oatmeal stout myself.)
Here’s a morsel with possibly no practical value at all. It’s from last Sunday’s New York Times on what CEOs read:
“I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers,” says Sidney Harman, founder of Harman Industries, a $3 billion producer of sound systems for luxury cars, theaters and airports … “Poets are our original systems thinkers,” he said. “They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.”
I comb through a lot of business intelligence-related press releases and articles, so I was surprised to hear that the new book Made to Stick is popular among PR people.
In fact, the fact that the book is more popular among PR people than any other profession is co-author Chip Heath’s main disappointment. Last Wednesday night at his Global Business Network talk, he said he’d hoped to reach more HR and engineering types. Marketing and PR people already know the principles the book spells out, he says.
How many of them know those principles?
If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s worth reading. It describes six ways messages become “sticky” like urban myths: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories. If you’re in marketing, you just hope your pitch travels on legs like, say, the story of the man who wakes up in Las Vegas minus one his kidneys.
On the train home from hearing Heath, I tried to read something I’d printed earlier about BI in healthcare. It was like so much other junk about BI.
Here’s an industry that is all about measuring human behavior, the flesh and blood of business. And there, on so many web pages, is the dry and twisted writing that reports on that industry.
Take a look at the first paragraphs of this specimen from Business Intelligence Network, under the headline “The Future of Healthcare Business Intelligence”:
The future of healthcare business intelligence will play out at the intersection of the pressing (and, for that matter, chronic) issues in business and policy, and the use of emerging analytical capabilities to create applications to meet these challenges
To understand the future direction of healthcare business intelligence, one first needs to look at three things:
- Today’s pressing healthcare business and healthcare policy issues,
- Emerging trends in business intelligence capabilities, and
- Potential healthcare analytical applications that are currently being overlooked.
Or this page turner:
B.E.A.T. has technical expertise and proven track record in delivering innovative business solutions.
A certified Gold Partner of Microsoft, BEAT, a technology solutions provider and an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) is one of the few companies in the region that was selected by Microsoft to provide training for Performance Point Server Business Intelligence solutions–also known as ProClarity–that will improve business performance, create competitive advantage and achieve corporate objectives at a fraction of the cost of competing solutions.
Complex, predictable, abstract, dry and barely credible. If there’s a story at all, it’s buried. If it arouses any emotion in me, it’s just burning impatience.
Believe it or not, I used to work in a tech company where the press releases were actually worse. They were just about unreadable, with super-sized leads stuffed with vacuous tag lines. Yet the PR people kept writing them, and as far as I could tell, not a single executive sat up and said, “Are you kidding?”
I want “are you kidding” to echo throughout the BI world.
A friend of Datadoodle recalls this story: He stood before a room full of IT people who worked on mainframes and asked them, “‘How many of you feel responsibility for the quality of the data?'”
Not one raised a hand. He said to them, “OK, now you’re the CIO and I’m a salesman. And I say, ‘You know how those guys are always telling you that you can’t get your data off that old clunky thing? Well, they just want to keep their jobs. You need to get your data off that old-fashioned thing.'”
One day the mainframe is gone in favor of a $10 million replacement. Three years later, the company’s still got transaction glitches. He says to the IT people, “One morning you’ll pick up the paper and you’ll read about it, and you’ll say, ‘If only they still had that old mainframe!'”
Al Cherdak, an independent developer of enterprise software, has been seeing BI consolidation first hand. It's killing innovation, and the Big Guys will save themselves by fixing it, he says.