Business Intelligence Is Bull Shit

So many infograms, charts and reports are a waste of bytes or worse a waste of paper they are printed on. At least manure can be used as fertilizer. Bad BI is useless, wasteful and potentially dangerous. So much gets produced without well reasoned thought and without involving the people in the business this “intelligence” is produced for.

Titans of industry met last Friday night, 3 engineers and 1 IT geek at a table of tacos, margaritas and beer. What started off as friendly shop talk soon escalated into rants about the uselessness of various BI outputs. One described a hallway, walls lined with plastic sleeves filled with reports that no one read. Another talked about a business, its physical infrastructure crumbling, that poured countless hours into producing acronymed filled graphs. I offered my own story.

Just out of college, MBA degree freshly embossed, a love for statistical analysis and a brand new job I was eager to impress at, I worked to create a gargantuan monthly reporting package. It was Excel based. It was overly complicated and cumbersome. It contained graphs and charts based on incomplete data and did not answer any questions asked by those who really knew the company’s business. My boss was very excited and supportive. He thought this was vital information and had been badly needed. I’m certain he never finished reading the 1st month’s report and stopped looking at them altogether after a while. I soldiered on, determined to prove my worth. I was not providing value to the company, but I did learn a valuable lesson. Business intelligence, or whatever name your analysis goes by, is only as useful as the questions it is able to answer and the decisions you can make based on it.

BI, big data, analytics, etc are amazing, exciting and hot selling items right now. Like all hot selling and popular items it’s buyer beware. Before you churn out that next bit of analysis that you think the business needs to have, ask yourself some questions.

  • What decision have you ever made off of a heat map?
  • What strategic objective have you achieved because of a word cloud?
  • Who in the business has asked for that report and what question/problem is it solving?

Producing unneeded or not useful reporting not only wastes your time, but everyone else in the organization who comes across it. Time wasting is probably the least of your worries. If the data you are reporting on isn’t good in the first place you might be damning a generation to a lifetime of spinach. Phil Factor can make that point much better than I.

I am a giant hypocrite in this area. My own site, http://www.beerintelligenceproject.com, is dedicated to creating, storing and reporting on data for no other purpose than for my personal enjoyment. There’s a heat map based on count of breweries and beers and a top 10 breweries by beer chart. I don’t have a word cloud, but if I did there would be a giant IPA in the middle. This BI is crap, but nobody is paying me to produce it.

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