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BI implies passivity – we need action oriented reporting, bring back KM? August 12, 2006

Posted by Cyril Brookes in BI Requirements Definition, General, Issues in building BI reporting systems.
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BI used to be KM in the management consultant marketing speak. Let’s bring back KM – BI is becoming too passive. Knowledge Management was our buzzword during the late 90s. Trouble was, no one seemed to agree on what it meant. I blame the software vendors for this shambles. KM was the new corporate must have and so every piece of reporting software, from ERM to spreadsheets, became a KM product.

As is usual in this situation, we changed the name, this time to BI. Today, we often see a BI system defined as comprising principally: Corporate Performance Management ERM Customer Relationship Management Competitive Intelligence This seems to suit the software vendors, as they can fit about anything into one of the above categories.

We are missing something, however, that was a key part of the initial Knowledge Management movement, before it was taken over by the marketers.

Herbert Simon once wrote:

The impact of information is obvious. It consumes the attention of its readers. Therefore, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

So often BI is seen as a reporting tool, and BI designers and software has but one objective – Put information in front of executives so they can make better, more informed, decisions. But I believe it doesn’t work like that; executives are time poor and need, in fact deserve,much help to determine what is important, what signifies a potential problem, and what the implications are of the current status. To me, that’s what Knowledge Management was, should be, all about and therefore it’s what BI should also be.

As BI professionals, what can we do about it in our projects and designs? Here are some of the most important issues I believe we face to empower our client executives to perform at a higher level – BTW: I hate the word user in this context.

Empowering effective individual knowledge work is the most important objective. So often the corporate culture is focused on finding the right number or document, rather than the right person, with marginal result.

Practice check 1: We need to put each KPI, metric or measure in front of the right person, PLUS we should identify the expert who will explain the significance and implications of good and bad numbers or documents.

Executives need to need to distinguish between numbers and documents that are significant and those that merely detail or cover a nominated KPI or topic, but are not useful.

Practice check 2: We must know what rules, tacit or explicit, our client executives employ to decide substance, significance and need for response. And/Or, make the system adaptable to meet the changes in these.

The more senior people obviously have to monitor and contribute to broader business performance and strategic areas. They will therefore want to focus on the more important issues, and not be burdened with detail that is not about something significant. Yet, when something is significant, they need much more, fast. What is the more and where is it?

Practice check 3: While this is an obvious requirement, it is very difficult to implement, in my experience. For the BI designer, it comes down to two basic issues: (1) establishing, ex ante, the degree of detail required for drill-down when certain criteria for significance are met, and (2) making it easy to identify and reach the subject experts for each area.

People with high levels of expertise can leverage their contribution to the corporation through collaboration on issue assessment and a process of issue escalation. Leveraging expertise involves sharing the results of problem assessment and creative work among those who will benefit.

Practice check 4: It is a part of the BI designer’s role to ensure that the right people can be brought into the problem solving loop.

Knowledge enabling response to a problem or opportunity is usually not recorded, it is created dynamically as issues are identified, assessed, debated and resolved. Notification about an adverse assessment of data, messages, queries, etc. from an information repository will often trigger creation of more explicit and communicable expressions of knowledge via expert discussion.

Practice check 5: This is the nub of knowledge management, as I understand it. Clearly we cannot achieve KM unless our BI systems recognize both the hard and tacit information resources, allow access to subject experts and promote the recording of the knowledge created as a result.

These five checks on the specification or implementation of a BI environment will materially help you determine how action oriented your systems are.

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