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Social Bookmarks and Tagging in BI Fail the Just-in-Time Test February 20, 2007

Posted by Cyril Brookes in General, Issues in building BI reporting systems, Tacit (soft) information for BI, Taxonomies, Tags, Corporate Vocabularies.

Tagging and Social Book-marking for BI applications is a hot topic. See, for example, Bill Ives comment. But I think there are barriers to it’s success in the corporate context. It doesn’t lend itself easily to the dynamics that are, or should be, key aspects of BI system design.

Sure, I am completely in agreement that information, particularly soft information, needs to be tagged, or classified, before it can be useful. I’ve talked about this several times in this blog. Social book-marking is better than none.

If information isn’t categorized then it cannot be selectively disseminate or easily searched for.

The social book-marking ethos implies that people create their own tags. But, of course, no one else knows (at least knows in a short time frame) that this tag is being applied for this purpose.

Until the tag’s existence and meaning is widely known, no item of, say, competitive intelligence with this tag can be subject to targeted personalization to relevant decision makers. More importantly, if the tag describes a concept that is identical to, or nearly so, those linked to one or more other tags then confusion is likely.

It follows that social book-marking can be effective in information retrieval, if the tags are managed, moderated and disseminated. However, this approach is not likely to be valuable for alerting purposes, especially in dynamic business environments. This is because those being alerted will not know of the tags existence, and will be frustrated by multiple tags with the same meaning.

In any case, corporate wide management of social bookmark tags is always going to be a big ask.

Knowledge in a business is often created via group collaboration. The smart corporation enables such new knowledge to be disseminated rapidly to those who should know it, and can take requisite action. There is no time to create new tags that may be redundant anyway, and to disseminate their existence and meaning widely.

Business intelligence has two basic purposes:

1. Helping executives and professionals assess status and find problems

2. Supporting problem solving, usually by less senior staff

For the corporate BI context the alerting and problem finding objectives are usually more valuable than problem solving. Knowing an issue exists will often be absolutely critical, resolving it is usually less difficult and less important. We cannot solve problems we don’t know exist.

As I opined recently, it is the combination of subject matter and assessed importance that is the key to effective alerting, or selective dissemination. And if an executive is to have a personalization profile it must use tags that are pre-specified and whose meaning is understood widely. Social book-marking does not usually imply assessing importance. Often importance can only be determined by people outside the group that creates the information, and the tag.

In the BI context a corporate vocabulary of preferred terms will be more useful than various sets of personally created, and probably redundant, social bookmarks. This is because the standard terms are widely known. Further, they are usually grouped in hierarchies of broader and narrower concepts and this facilitates retrieval and alerting.


Executives can seek items of high importance that are classified by a broader term (say, overall gross margin issues), or those about a narrower term (say, product X gross margin) that are of lower importance. In either case, they will not be inundated with large numbers of items.

Of course, inside a project team and other tightly knit groups social bookmarks may be suitable ways to tag documents and other material for retrieval.

However, I don’t believe that the wider corporate environment will benefit to the same extent. It’s a case where more formality and discipline brings better results.


Collaborative BI Implies a Personalized Grapevine – but, make it Smart Alerting or its all Blah! February 12, 2007

Posted by Cyril Brookes in BI Requirements Definition, General, Issues in building BI reporting systems, Tacit (soft) information for BI.

Effective collaboration depends on the dynamic creation of groups that can exchange and share intelligence. Collaborating people in a group create knowledge; often it is new knowledge that can improve business performance. However, finding the right group participants, and disseminating the knowledge to empower action, both require targeted, selective dissemination, of information – that’s personalization. Truly, I heard it on the grapevine!

Some regard personalized alerting in BI as creating a “market of one” for information..

I disagree. As I see it, it is creating a group of relevant people, the “A list” if you will, for the issue at hand. How can this happen, not occasionally with serendipity, but routinely? Groups must be dynamic, different for each issue, expanding and contracting in size as the issue grows in importance, or declines.

Markets of one work for marketing situations, e.g. books with Amazon.com, but I don’t believe it is the paradigm for collaborative BI.

Clearly, the traditional BI report, with information prepared by others submitted to potential decision makers is discredited. Today we have lakes and lakes of information available; Herbert Simon got it right in 1971: “Information abundance creates scarcity of attention”. And one can add: Knowledge poverty.

Informing decision makers doesn’t cut it anymore. Maybe it never did? We need to change the process, introducing dynamics to the grapevine.

Issues grow in business importance when people, in the know, determine they have grown in importance. There’s no other way.

All messages, ideas, news items, etc. on a topic are not of the same value or criticality to a business. Most are irrelevant to decision makers; they are waffle, padding, dross, blah.

Some of those items will be interesting to the professional; fewer are important, business-wise; but very few are critical to the business. How do we distinguish? Well, it’s simple: subject experts tell us they’re critical.

If you’re still with me, Dear Reader, personalized alerting, selective dissemination, of intelligence items on a topic can only be effective, therefore, if someone tells us (or the dissemination authority/process) what is important and what is not.

I don’t believe that automated importance classification works in practice – in a business anyway. It might do for spooks, but not the rest of us.

Some years ago, I built a selective dissemination collaboration system based on a patented importance escalation process. I called it grapeVINE. It employed this model of escalation and dynamic audiences for information. It was most effective when seeded with news, marketing reports, or other items. They were automatically classified, using a standard taxonomy or vocabulary, and selectively disseminated based on client interest profiles.

grapeVINE’s special character emerged when a subject expert commented on an item, raising it’s importance level – saying something like “this is important because the implications are….”. Immediately the audience would increase for this, and only this, discussion thread. More people are interested in important stuff than dross. One of these new recipients might then escalate the discussion further, bringing in more people – likely action oriented players. Then the game is on.

Two dimensional personalization of business intelligence, based on a combination of subject matter and importance to the business, is an effective driver of dynamic group formation.

Provided the culture of sharing is established in the business (and that’s an important IF), the potential for improvement in decision making is immense. It is the optimal vehicle for combining structured (numeric) and unstructured (text) information into BI systems.

Paraphrasing Crocodile Dundee: THIS IS A GRAPVINE!