From time to time, I take a look at various business intelligence and analytics vendors’ websites. I find them, as always, to be loaded with lots of new tools and capabilities. Their visual beauty is constantly improving. But I wonder if we’re all missing the point.
Your technology should work the way you do
The above statement sounds like it should be glaringly obvious, then I look at some of the demo “dashboards” that vendors tout in their marketing. One vendor (who shall remain nameless) had a dashboard that was downright bewildering. It had pie charts and line charts, lots of dropdowns to demonstrate its data filtering capabilities, and links to loads of reports. Do people really manage their businesses this way, though?
I ask this question because I’ve seen too many cases where the business intelligence analyst or his/her outside consultant counterpart designed the company’s reporting and analysis systems with all the bells and whistles. The result? Few people in the business truly understood it, and fewer still actually used it. I suspect that decision makers all too often fail to question such efforts because they are afraid to be perceived as technologically backward. After all, if this is how the vendors set up their demos . . .
To regain your sanity, go MAD
In previous posts on this blog and elsewhere, I’ve described my ideas about how people work with data. They review or monitor. They investigate and extrapolate. As a result of these activities, they produce new data. I’ve combined these activities into a nifty acronym — PRIME — and described some generic use cases for using data in the PRIME method. Now I want to express what I believe is the base generic case for using PRIME in business. I call this base case “MAD” because it consists of three components, as shown in the following chart.
Just as a driver uses a car’s dashboard to monitor what is going on as we drive a car, a decision maker constantly monitors events in the business. When conditions change in the business, the decision maker analyzes the changes by reviewing, investigating and extrapolating, and produces new information — a conclusion regarding what has changed, why it has changed and how it affects the business. The end result of the process is a decision, either to take an action or simply to continue monitoring.
Method to the madness
I like “MAD” for a couple of reasons. First, I think it is intuitive and consistent with our understanding of human consciousness. Think about how you conduct yourself from moment to moment. If you are like most humans, you constantly monitor your environment. You sense potential opportunities (such as a beautiful, fragrant flower) and potential threats (perhaps a bee that happens to be pollinating that flower and might sting you if you come too close). You analyze these inputs to figure out what they mean and take an action, or not.
The second reason I like MAD is that it helps keep the decision maker’s feet on the ground. Ideally, the decision maker should focus at any given time on a very small number of key statuses in his or her business area. When these statuses change, then and only then do we need the bells and whistles of the decision support technology.
Finally, complex dashboards will prove to be increasingly useless in the emerging future of mobile business intelligence and decision support. Decision makers whose primary access to data is through a smartphone when they’re on the go will need to keep things simple, and MAD does exactly that. This way, even if the decision maker doesn’t have immediate access to detailed data that would only make sense if viewed on a tablet or larger screen, he or she is still connected and up to date at a macro level.