October 5, 2006

The problem with dashboards, and business intelligence segmented

It is becoming ever clearer that dashboards aren’t working out too well, any more than predecessor technologies like EIS (Executive Information Systems) did. The recurring problem with these technologies is that if they’re mind-numbingly simple, people don’t find them very useful; but if they’re not, people are overwhelmed and still don’t find them useful. This column by Sandra Gittlen does a good job of spelling the problem out.

I think there are lots of problems like that in BI, and what we need to do is step back and consider all the different kinds of BI that enterprises value and need. More precisely, let’s consider the major kinds of use of BI, because it seems that each calls for different kinds of technological support. Here’s one possible list:

Here’s what I mean by each category.

Early warning of situations that require action. This is the classic image of BI. People get reports or graphs on paper or on screen, see that some numbers are out of whack, and react accordingly. Dashboards can be a prettier version of the same thing, or they can be more focused on alarms and alerts. Nowadays, alarms and alerts can also arrive by IM, email, text message, pager, and so on.

On the one hand, a large fraction of the economic value in the history of BI has been generated in this area. On the other, technology for doing so is continually perceived as inadequate. I continue to think that KPI management, alerting technology, and so on are advancing much more slowly than they should be. Even the buzz around Business Activity Monitoring doesn’t seem to have accelerated things much.

Nor does this change when the warnings are the product of text or data mining. For example, despite a very interesting approach to generating alerts, at this point in its development Verix delivers them in uninspired ways.

Mainly, the supporting technology here is the standard query/reporting stack, including new dashboard/scorecard/alerting tools. It’s also the main place where data mining and text mining should be more integrated into standard BI than they are – i.e., to define and populate metrics and KPIs.

Communication of company results. Back in the 1980s, the conventional wisdom was that half the benefit of reporting tools was for actual analytics, while half was just for communicating among enterprise employees. That’s probably still valid.

BI vendors had the good idea a few years ago to build out their collaboration capabilities, but generally didn’t follow through on it, SAP somewhat excepted. Bad choice, in my opinion. The use of text search to get at BI results is something of a plausibility argument for my views in this area.

Again, the supporting technology here is largely the standard reporting stack. Portal/collaboration tools should be more involved than they are.

Deep analysis and decision support. Routine, scheduling reporting was covered in my first two categories. But this third one is where the bulk of ad hoc query and data mining fall. Generally, it’s where lots of specialized and/or calculation-intensive analytic technology comes into play. It’s also where the drilldown aspect of standard reporting shows up. Also, this is the area that is driving much of the recent transformation and disruption in the data warehouse market, because different kinds of BI need different kinds of data warehousing technology.

Operational analytics. In operational analytics, a small amount of analysis is done real-time or near-real-time, in connection with an operational business process. The most technically demanding examples are probably the customer-facing ones, such as call centers or personalized e-commerce sites. This is where the buzz around “active/enterprise data warehousing” is concentrated. There may also be interesting messaging aspects. And data mining scoring may be a consideration.


4 Responses to “The problem with dashboards, and business intelligence segmented”

  1. James Taylor on October 8th, 2006 5:39 pm

    I find myself in violent agreement, again. It amazes me how much time and money is spent in presenting information to people and how little is spent on actually doing something useful – performance monitoring but not performance management. I blogged a little on how Business Activity Monitoring gets you some of the way and wrote an article on shifting from monitoring to acting.
    I also discussed the issue of latency in decision making in the context of active data warehouses.

  2. Carl on November 22nd, 2006 9:06 am

    I don’t entirely agree. The points of issue are not whether dashboards have value; that realtime information is important; that KPIs should be and need to be tracked; whether dashboards can indicate problems; that intervention or action needs to be taken when problems are identified, but is what action, and how action should be taken. Surely that is (or should be) determined by the organisation and not the dashboard, or solution provider? Value can be gained from dashboards and their providers in a number of ways at different levels of sophistication, but ultimately the most important thing, I believe, is that the organisational strategists are determining how data is displayed, how action should be taken and indeed that action IS taken. They are the people who need to be given a level of control that can scale to their level of technical ability, (that’s where many dashboard providers often fall down, and solution providers like http://www.blueboxwidget.com make good sense). That’s where the core issue is in my mind. The actual users are disempowered because they lack control over how dashboards are configured.

  3. Curt Monash on November 28th, 2006 5:09 pm


    If you’re arguing for structured analytic business processes, integrated with more ad-hoc forms of BI, I agree.

    And there’s no natural place for it in the taxonomy above, so the taxonomy is flawed. There should be a fifth category for “quick lookup/analysis” or whatever. Or else I should redefine and extend the “early warning” category to include it.



  4. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Revolutionary trends in the analytics market on July 9th, 2007 8:54 am

    […] A post about BI product segmentation. […]

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