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Something funny happened to BI Requirements Definition. It went away! May 17, 2006

Posted by Cyril Brookes in BI Requirements Definition, General, Issues in building BI reporting systems.
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Information reporting all started with MIS in the 60s; Management Information Systems were going to make all executives’ lives simple, decisions would be based on straightforward assessment of all the facts.  First, though, we had to find out what information the executives wanted – and we did, or tried to do so.

Then there was DSS in the 70s; Decision Support Systems would use those fantastic optimization algorithms to cover the fuzzy areas left because MIS didn’t seem to be cutting it.  Expert Systems based on so-called “Rules” offered the promise of filling more gaps. “Boards of Directors will be retained for sentimental reasons, computers will make all the decisions” expounded one eager High Priest of the Computer.  Again, however, we needed to know what processes and decision types needed support.

Enter EIS in the 80s;  Executive Information Systems was the catch-all term that would finally lead management to the Holy Grail.  It sold lots of consultant-hours, but clearly the name change did little for the quality of the result.  No-one suggested, however, that an EIS should be built without first determining the information to be reported.

KM was next in line in the 90s; Knowledge Management was the umbrella descriptor that recognized the inherent fuzzy, non-stationary, and imprecise nature of executive information support. Trouble was, nobody could stipulate what KM actually is, or was.  Despite all the heavy technology artillery, everyone believed that we needed a road-map for KM –  the requirements definition to show the way.

Now we have a new millennium and BI; and Business Intelligence covers about everything from Corporate Performance Measurement, through Competitive Intelligence to  Customer Relationship Management.  Nothing wrong with that, if we can make it work, that is. See www.bipathfinder.com to find out where I am coming from in all this.

BUT, somewhere along this timeline – starting in the EIS phase, we created prototyping.  Make no mistake; I regard prototyping as an invaluable and effective tool for BI, if used correctly.  Start with a broad set of requirements, build version 1, try it, build version 2, try it…..the last prototype version is the finished product.   

The issue is, by the time we reached the BI phase, we appear to have cancelled out the first part, and the logic runs – “Don’t bother with the broad set of requirements, just build anything, see how it goes and we’ll fix it from there”.

As I’ve opined before in this blog, BI Requirements Definition is a tough task.  It often requires skills and attitudes that the IT analyst doesn’t have, or doesn’t want to use, e.g.: 

    • Understanding, and performing, Business Process Analysis

    • Developing empathy with the executive culture

    • Eschewing the guru culture, at least for the interviews

    • Accepting that ETL, data warehousing, cubes, dimensional modeling, etc. may not be all there is to make a project work.  These are deterministic tasks, but the soft aspects, particularly understanding the business, and its people, is also vital, perhaps more so.

It is no wonder that requirements definition for BI is on the nose; it’s too bloody hard.  And prototyping gives us an easy out – our task is to build a BI system, pity about the fact that it is far short of what could have been.  If we don’t start in the right ballpark, we won’t be able to prototype morph back into it.  The BI system is stuffed!

Next post:  What we can do about it, given we are in this mess.

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