The Secret Necessary First Ingredient of BI


Business Intelligence isn’t “reporting” or “technology”.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard business and IT leaders alike give those misconceptions voice. I suppose it’s possible to purchase an amazing new reporting tool, but it’s absolutely not possible to purchase a box of business intelligence. More mature companies think that if they get some processes in place, learn some best practices, add some responsibilities to a couple of their staff, and THEN maybe buy a new tool … then they’ll have BI, which translates to wrapping their data in their new beautiful reporting or dashboarding infrastructure. That’s closer.

Still more mature … If we do all these things AND we have a data warehouse in place that implements at least the basics of good dimension modeling, surely then we’ll be golden … right?

Well, I’d still have to say: no. This is all good stuff. Really good. Necessary. But my concern is that all of it focuses on what boils down to effects rather than cause, tools rather than the root driver of value to the business. The bottom line is that BI is not about reporting or technology or data or processes or even people by themselves, it’s about discipline.

The purpose of Business Intelligence is to put in place the discipline (what turns “good intentions” into “intentionality” … and “vision” into “reality” … and “investment” into “return”) to convert an organization’s unique data into vital knowledge assets by which the leaders of that organization can make better decisions. What you build when you build BI is this discipline, not some reporting infrastructure … no matter how advanced. Physically, technology and tools are a set of lenses – reports, dashboards, scorecards, applications, widgets, portals, etc – through which you can make better decisions to advance the mission / goals of your business. But before those lenses can be of value – certainly before their value is maximized – you need people and processes of the right ilk. The people need to have vision, a plan, and the discipline to carry it out. The processes need to empower them not entangle or encumber them. And the technology is their toolkit. But understanding where you’re going (vision), stating goals, staffing appropriately, right-sizing processes, exposing data, and generally thinking through why to do what when with whom … no technology can give you any of it, no matter how expensive or sophisticated or well-marketed.

So, a large, well-placed financial investment may buy you a tool or hire you a smart guy or roll out a new process, but the return on that investment will never be what it could be without investing in the plan and … here’s the key … *committing* to the discipline to carry it out.

About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Jesus, the long awaited King. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long, difficult, joyful adventure, learning to swim with the current of God's sovereign love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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