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November 21, 2003

Professionally Speaking

Somebody asked me what I do to put food on the table. I answered 'BI'. They asked what's BI?

Business Intelligence is the 'connecting the dots' software & practices that companies spend many millions on annually. It represents pretty much the leading edge of the art in terms of building systems that answer common sense and not so common sense questions about the numerical data that companies have.

Imagine that poster where a monkey evolves to a man. If you have to call Joe in accounting and he says he'll mail you a spreadsheet next week, you're the monkey. If you have set of spreadsheets that are already in a folder that you can get yourself, you're a chimp. If you have some kind of system where you can have a standard report that you can get to, then you're walking upright, but still Cro-Magnon. If you have an interactive system that you can query and get an answer in a few minutes, then you're Neanderthal. If you have a web based system that can tell you about any number in any of your company's books that's as fast as Google, then you're modern. If you have all that and a system that's predictive in real-time and notifies you without having to ask, then you're state of the art.

Most of the Fortune 500 is Neanderthal. I make a living evolving these brutes. But during lean times, companies don't spend on IT, they call Joe in accounting.

I've been in the business for a long time and I am continually amazed at what companies don't know about themselves. Examples would be illustrated by the kinds of projects I've worked on in the past two years.

A. Before I worked there, Cingular Wireless could not tell you how much profit came from each of their retail stores.

B. Before I worked there, Kaiser Permanente could not tell you how many hours their 30,000 IT workers were billing before the bills arrived.

C. Before I worked there, Mattel couldn't tell you in US dollars how much revenue their overseas toy sales were until 45 days were up.

D. Before I worked there, Nissan USA took 35 days to close their international books, now it takes 6 days.

Probably the biggest impact BI has had on the public consciousness is that now, everybody knows the economic importance of how well movies do on their opening weekends. Studios are now experimenting with things like simultaneous releases of films internationally (like Matrix3) because they can now model the effect of piracy, distribution, 'ultimate' asset valuation, merchandising etc., with BI systems and tools.

Posted by mbowen at November 21, 2003 05:53 AM

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