BI irrelevant according to New Scientist!

BI irrelevant according to New Scientist!


After all the words that have ever been written about the value of Business Intelligence imagine the collective pain felt by all those in the industry who read the recent article in New Scientist which stated that rather than being free-willed, conscious beings we are driven far more by instinctual reasoning than we might think.

Interpreting the New Scientist article in terms of BI means that regardless of the evidence before them peoples decisions are driven to but more basic environmental factors than rational decision making. So do we just pack up our BI tools now, and let environmental factors take their course or continue to try and bring reason to organisational decision making. The choice is yours.


In the red corner
we have the New Scientists, here is an extract of the article…

WE HUMANS suffer from an advanced case of self-delusion, according to Alex Pentland. We like to see ourselves as free-willed, conscious beings, self-governing and set apart from other animals by our capacity for reasoning. Yet watch people closely, says Pentland, and you find that we are more instinctual and a lot more like other creatures than we care to think.

At the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pentland and his colleagues are doing just that. By fitting custom-made electronic "black boxes" to students, researchers and visiting executives at MIT, they can monitor people going about their day – working, meeting, eating, going out and sleeping. The devices record where the wearers go and how fast, their tone of voice, and subtle details about their body language. What they have revealed is that a good 90 per cent of what most people do in any day follows routines so complete that their behaviour can be predicted with just a few mathematical equations.

These findings are part of a quiet explosion of psychological work that is casting human behaviour in a weirdly mechanical light. "It’s difficult for people to accept," says psychologist John Bargh of Yale University, "but most of a person’s everyday life is determined not by their conscious intentions and deliberate choices, but by mental processes put into motion by the environment."

In other words, most of the time we are simply reacting instinctively to the world around us. This may sound disheartening if you see yourself as rational master of your destiny, but breaking down this illusion could be the key to bringing the science of human behaviour back in line with other studies of animal behaviour.
Unfortunately you need subscriber access – but if you do the full article is here.


In the blue corner
we have the traditional approach to BI, and maybe this is part of the problem. BI has long been touted as the bigger the better, get all data from all sources, crunch it, clean it, massage it – turn it into something unrecognisable from its initial form – package it up in a dial and hey presto we have Business Intelligence and better decision making. Wrong!

New Scientist argues that ‘environmental’ decision making is most likely a coping mechanism, the way in which we manage vast amounts of information. Imagine having to make a conscious ‘well thought through’ choice for each decision you make in a day – you would be exhausted by the time you chose which cereal to have for breakfast. This though is the approach of traditional BI. The depth of analysis, the options, the buttons not to mention the vast amounts of data and 1000’s of reports overwhelm the end user to the point where rather than encouraging rational decision making it probably does the opposite.

In the white corner – a new BI and a return to simper times. Well not a return but an understanding of what people do and what they need to be effective in their role. What does this type of BI entail? Well it is probably more operational in focus with a good shot of predictive analysis thrown in for good measure.

BI can be a highly effective method of assisting people to make better business decisions. Stop thinking about the technology for a moment and consider what the users want. Generally this is:

  1. A small set of more relevant and timely reports – Reports that assist the user to act and perform in their role. If a report is not driving action or assisting analysis then most likely it is irrelevant.
  2. Training on how to analyse data – provide the capacity to know when and how to use the data provided effectively. Like prioritising time is a skill often taught so to should be the ability to prioritise data.
  3. Building BI into daily processes – let exception reporting and dashboards drive decision making based on sound business principles gathered from your experts. What are the key calls to action in your business processes – build your reports around these events.

Don’t let your BI initiative become part of the decision making problem. Make BI easy so that people do not have to rely on instinctual decision making.

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