In the current turbulent trading conditions, it’s no surprise that business intelligence tops enterprise IT wish list. However, in this post, I want to try to dig in to what that really means. On one side of the issue, the use of data and information, an excellent series of posts have already been written by my friend Peter Evans-Greenwood. So it’s the other side I want to look at, the way people use information to make decisions, and the tools and techniques that can be used. The single biggest issue this throws up is that one size does not in fact fit all, or, put a little more clearly, one tool will not deliver everything required across the roles and working practices of an enterprise’s employee base.
Some time ago there were a series of classifications made, dividing up the behavior and working characteristics of different age groups. The result was to define four major groups: Traditionalists 64 yrs +; Boomers 45 to 63 yrs; Generation X 26 to 44 yrs and Millennials 18 to 25 yrs. The classifications used age as a broad basis to define attitudes to work, technology and many other issues, including communication styles, problem solving techniques and decision making. These are three major traits that business intelligence is designed to support. Each age group shows vastly different styles (see diagram below).

Further to this, in another piece of research I have seen that is not publically available online, there is an examination of how people in different roles divide their time between four key activities; relationship management and decision support; knowledge management; collaboration; and business process. The research subdivided the various roles in a business into ten categories, but for the purposes of this blog post, I will just focus on four to illustrate the point I want to make (see below).
By now some points are obvious; i.e. at a guess most Leaders / Executives are Boomers therefore 70% of the time they will be making decisions in a very different manner to the 35% of the time that Mobile Workers (most likely Gen X) spend making decisions. On the other hand it seems that neither will be particularly concerned by business process, which interestingly, is seen traditionally as the place that Business Intelligence was derived from. Look in the same way at the Knowledge and Collaboration categories and consider the likely age grouping and classification of the workers.
Let’s return to a previous post; the effect of time and the direction of activity. The key is the diagram which is the link back to Peter Evans-Greenwood’s work around when and how we are creating value from information. Now consider where the roles we have just examined sit and it is pretty likely that Mobile Workers and, to an extent, the Professional Experts, will be working at the edge of the enterprise facing the market. At this point the four activities they undertake will be focused around tactical issues of limited consequences to the entire enterprise, where time to decide and ability to act is the highest priority. The Leaders or Executives would be more likely to be found making bigger decisions of much higher consequence to the business in the centre of the enterprise. So what actually needs to be decided, not to mention what is involved in their four activities, will be very different.
All of which brings me to my point; I will define business intelligence as having the right information and expertise at the right time to be able to take an optimized decision with the ability to trigger the appropriate action. Though the definition may fit for all the combinations of people categorizations and activities it most certainly does not mean that the same approach and tools will work for all of them. The ‘one size fits all’ products derived from existing ERP or database analysis, whilst useful as a starting point, do not constitute the vision of business intelligence as outlined above. What is needed is an appreciation of using a much wider approach.
The same matrices of people categorization, roles and activities should be used as part of an analysis of what is required at each place in the enterprise to achieve the results those working there both need and can naturally work with. If we don’t do this, we can hardly say it is a surprise that whilst every wants more business intelligence, few are able to say that it is really achieving what they hoped. The real issue is tying the right business intelligence package of role, and working practice, with the appropriate information.