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BI in Action

Michael Dortch

Business Intelligence in 2009: The Most Intelligent Businesses Listen...and Respond!

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One of my favorite experiences in listening to or watching episodes of "This American Life," produced by Ira Glass and his team at Chicago Public Radio. The episode first broadcast on December 19, 2008 is entitled "Ruining It for the Rest of Us," and is about how decisions and actions of a few can have negative effects on many.

In the episode's prologue, Ira talks with Will Felps, a professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, about the effects a single bad worker can have on an entire team. Felps formed teams, then infiltrated them with an operative variously instructed to act like a jerk ("I don't have any alternatives to suggest, but I know your ideas won't work!"), a slacker (who would, for example, start eating or texting friends while the team was supposed to be collaborating) or a depressive pessimist ("Who cares about what we're supposed to be working on, anyway?"). And despite the declarations of the Jackson Five - a source of guidance I had always trusted implicitly before - one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch (girl).

I'll leave it up to you to go download and listen to the entire episode podcast - it's worth the effort, and it's free. (Since if you're reading this, you probably have a job, if you find the episode entertaining, you might consider throwing a few bucks at Chicago Public Radio, so they can keep giving "This American Life" podcasts away.) But here's the best part. Professor Felps decided to do some additional research, to try to figure out how best to mitigate the negative effects of bad apples on teams. So far, he told Ira, what he's found is that the teams best equipped to overcome negativity are those with at least one member who focuses on diffusing conflict and engaging other team members - by listening, then asking questions.

This has profound implications for the intelligent business, which, I perhaps naively assume, is the ultimate goal of all business intelligence efforts. If a business can construct an maintain a business-driven, IT-enabled infrastructure that encourages and supports the ability of people to listen, then to capture, learn from, and leverage what they hear, interesting things become possible. That business can become more internally and competitively agile and responsive, and perhaps even become a more satisfying place to work and a more attractive business partner. And there's money in that to boot.

The Take-Away: If "readin' writin', and 'rithmetic" are "the three Rs," business intelligence efforts may be best driven by the three Ls - listening, learning, and leverage. Those efforts should be individually and collectively aimed at three goals - enablement of the company's ability to listen to all constituents and stakeholders, to learn from what they say, and to leverage what they learn. This approach makes business intelligence a key enabler of process improvement, across almost all business actions, transactions, and processes.

A good first step? Assess all incumbent collaboration tools, to ensure they enable your business to gather, save, and analyze information about who's using what to do what. You can use that information to improve internal collaboration, then to improve interactions with customers, partners, and prospects. You might start by asking your users what they like and don't like about the tools they use now, and the processes governing those tools. At the very least, users will appreciate knowing that someone, somewhere within the managerial labyrinth actually cares about their opinions.

Globalization, shrinking business cycles, and increasing competitive pressures are placing demands on business managers to make faster and better decisions. Managers require both real-time visibility into their business operations and sophisticated analytical tools to help them navigate the increasingly fast paced and complex business environment.

Michael Dortch

Michael Dortch is a veteran information entrepreneur and information technology (IT) industry analyst, consultant, speaker, writer, evangelist and provocateur. He has been striving to empower buyers, sellers and users of IT solutions since 1979. Seriously! ;-)

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more

Madan Sheina

Madan Sheina is principal analyst within Ovum's Software Applications group and is based in Northern California.

Madan has fifteen years' experience working in the IT industry both as an analyst and a journalist. His research covers a range of information management technologies, with a sharp focus on business intelligence, knowledge management and data integration software.

Madan is well respected in the IT industry for his clear, incisive and no-nonsense analysis style. He has advised leading ISVs on market positioning and product development strategy, IT users on product evaluation and selection, and the financial investment community on technology trends. View more


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