Business Intelligence: is it time for a new approach to an old problem?

Daniel Senter

Getting useful information out of the reams of data in our organisations has been always been challenging. Maybe it’s time we focus not just on the data and the technologies, but also on the human interactions needed to help engage and support their understanding, writes columnist Daniel Senter.

An on-going challenge I come across quite regularly within Business Intelligence (BI) is the balancing act between transactional and summary data. By transactional data I refer to the type of data collected at its lowest level of granularity. In many service organisations this type of information generally relates to individual transactions along with all the corresponding data recorded for those transactions.

Unlocking the potential of data - more difficult than it first appears

We find ourselves with the luxury of being able to track, record and store ever more information but does that mean we should?

A quick search on Google confirms the exponential growth we are seeing in data, particularly with social media and the explosion in use of mobile devices. For many organisations the focus has been on harnessing the benefits from big data by looking at the tools needed to extract and manipulate the data.

However, transactional data is also is embedded within big data and is not really something that is new. The point here is that there are similar challenges around "normal data" and with what is coined "big data". For many organisations these challenges are not new and have not come around with the age of big data.

Organisations have been managing and processing this type of data for many years and working towards better insights. Big Data has just given vendors and the Business Intelligence (BI) industry a new focus on certain areas. Much of the focus on big data is centred around the processing and storage of the data. However, I believe there is a need for attention to the business users, their needs, managing their expectations and understanding what to do with the data.

The role of BI is to provide the business with insights to make better decisions, however I believe this also involves educating and steering the business to make use of better methods available to consume and interpret the data to get the best out of it.

Here’s the dilemma: many of the benefits in providing insightful dashboards and reports comes from its simplicity in displaying summary information to make it intuitive and allow easier interpretation of the information. Dashboards are designed to offer the user an interactive way to find answers and drill through to details where needed. This can be an art in itself to help the user understand the data.

But there is a cultural change to manage in moving a business from paper print reporting to online interactive dashboards. For example, I have been asked 'how can I print this dashboard with all transactional details' many, many times. When I explain how the dashboard could have 60 or more combinations they soon change their mind!

Many of the newer BI apps have wizards and tools to help suggest visualisations to help engagement. Those of you familiar with the work of consultant and author Stephen Few will be aware of the best practice he had developed around data visualisation. However, I believe there is a need to further drive towards a movement of intuitive intelligence. Intuitive intelligence will help the industry to focus not just on the data and the technologies, but on a blend of this and the human interactions needed to help engage and support their understanding.

Maybe the next big thing in 2014 will be intuitive intelligence?