Category: culture

A BI canary turns up dead

BI Scorecard’s annual survey on business intelligence success has found a dead canary in the mine.

In an April 7 post, “BI Adoption Remains Flat,” Cindi Howson reported that her broadly focused annual survey, fielded since 2006, found a drop in reported BI success. That score has been flat and low every year, but last year it fell to its lowest ever.

BI success — by which she means improved access to data, perception of value, and gains in revenue, customer service, and operating efficiency — dropped six points to just 28 percent.

Don’t slit your wrists just yet. A single dead canary doesn’t necessarily portend catastrophe.

In fact, the BI Scorecard Successful BI survey’s full report — for sale on Cindi’s site — found bright spots, such as the suggestion of great remaining potential. If only there were enough money, clean data, and proper support, say respondents, the percentage of workers using BI would rise from 22 percent — which has also been flat — to 50 percent.

But that one bitter point — lack of proper support — keeps showing up. “While much of the industry focuses on software and technical innovations,” Cindi observes, “the main barriers are organizational and cultural, according to 84 percent of survey respondents.”

Eighty-four percent say the main barriers are organizational and cultural! Such a lopsided result can’t be true, you may say, yet I believe it is. My own ongoing, informal survey that I’ve conducted since 2008 has found near unanimous agreement among BI professionals that this is BI’s big obstacle.

With such support, the other two obstacles — data quality and budgets — would no doubt begin to improve, probably to the degree that support improved.

Who murdered the canary? Look no further than executives who won’t give BI the support it needs.

Men in the middle see both sides of the IT-business split

The in-between people see it all from their position between IT and business users. Wayne Eckerson calls them the “purple people” because they’re half IT red and half business blue, and others might call them just con artists. By either name, they see more than the purebreds.

Today at the sixth Tableau Customer Conference, just upwind from Washington D.C, I ran into two men in such roles.

They appear in one set of clothes when facing the information technology people. Then in an instant they turn around to appear in other clothes to business people. They win the confidence of both. Read more

Where data analysis is a nightmare

There are the dream organizations that deploy data analysts wisely. Then there are the nightmares, such as the I.R.S. as portrayed in David Foster Wallace’s last novel, The Pale King, reviewed yesterday in the New York Times.

… In a universe of veiled and veiling numbers, the task of drawing the true [data] out into the light and holding them up for inspection, clear and remainder-­less, really is a sacred one. … The problem, as I.R.S. recruits soon discover, is that neither moral nor heroic codes hold true anymore.

These recruits work with “excruciating difficulty … in an age of data saturation.”

The [instructor] presents “the world and reality as already essentially penetrated and formed, the real world’s constituent info generated . . . now a meaningful choice lay in herding, corralling and organizing that torrential flow of info.”

One character is the data psychic, Sylvanshine, who can “glean trivia about anyone simply by looking at him.” But, as if to prove that good data is far from the end of the story, he has a problem.

[He] is “weak or defective in the area of will.” Nor, due to endless digressions, can he complete anything. No one can; in “The Pale King,” nothing ever fully happens. That this is to a large extent a metaphor … becomes glaringly obvious when we hear one unnamed character describe the play he’s writing, in which a character sits at a desk, doing nothing; after the audience has left, he will do something — what that “something” is, though, the play’s author hasn’t worked out yet.

Let’s see, will an “easy to use,” “speed of thought” tool help? Is there a tool for Sylvanshine and the others?

No, at least not until the next update. But this is why business intelligence is fascinating. Under cover of tools and data, we touch the heart — throbbing or dead — of the organization.

Data managers should emulate good librarians

Haul away the hardware, peel off the software, rinse off the mystique and you see what the people who manage data really are: They’re librarians. That’s the role IT workers should model themselves on.

I’m not talking about technology. I don’t care what tools anyone uses. Whether we’re talking about bound paper known as “books” or bits magically transmitted over “wi-fi,” I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.

I know, the comparison may seem harsh. Librarians are said to shuffle silently among musty old books that no one ever reads. Or, as my friend Karen Schneider puts it, they’re “some misguided brontosaurus snuffling in the antediluvian biblioforest.”

She’s director of the Cushing Library at Holy Names University, just across the bay from San Francisco. She’s one of the actual librarians who resist a trend among some in her profession. They want to run libraries like traditional information technology departments. They’ve been seduced by the old mystique — which in the business world has worn thin.

You know the complaints: IT guards its data like gold bullion instead of serving it to those who can create value with it. It tries to shop its way out of problems. Only the initiated may enter.

Why anyone would want to emulate that, I don’t know. Yet apparently, from what she wrote last week in her blog Free Range LIbrarian, this trend has legs among some who manage libraries.

That trend seems idiotic when you realize what a well run library is all about. Substituting just a few words, you can see a philosophy for IT in the one she describes for librarians:

In the end, what matters, and what we are about, are the ancient truths of librarianship: organizing, managing, making available, preserving, and celebrating the word [data] in all of its manifestations; helping our users build skill sets the fundamentals of which (if not the ephemeral details) will last a lifetime [a fiscal year]; and celebrating and defending the right to read [analyze], however that word is interpreted. This is what we do. This is who we are. This makes us librarians.

Librarians and IT workers, that is. Does technology really make anything new? I say that, fundamentally, nothing is new but the tools.