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Stacia Misner

Managing Expectations

If you're a business intelligence practitioner like me, you might have certain expectations from a book entitled Business Intelligence Success Factors: Tools for Aligning your Business in the Global Economy. You might think it contains lots of practical examples for implementing BI projects. Or if you're someone who uses (or wants to use) BI in day-to-day operations, you might think it can help you to find and fix the gaps in your current usage. This book meets neither of those expectations.

Digression alert…Once upon a time, I owned a copy of Olivia Parr Rud's book Data Mining Cookbook. I say "once upon a time" because many years ago I had a collection of data mining books that I would take to my Analysis Services classes for students to peruse on the day that we tackled the data mining component. I kept the books in a bag in the trunk of my car, but one day I set the bag in the garage to make space in the trunk and then forgot about the bag. My husband assumed that a bag of books in the garage must mean that my intent was to dispose of the books, so he set the bag out for the garbage collector. It took me a long time to overcome my shock and horror that someone would actually throw books away. (Confession: I hoard books.)

Having read Data Mining Cookbook, I expected Rud's second book to provide the same type of "how-to" explanation that I found in her first book. It didn't take me long to realize that my expectations were all wrong.

So what is the book about? The first part of the book concentrates on the state of business in general. There are plenty of problems familiar to those in management positions and BI practitioners cited in Chapter 1, "The Evolving Business Landscape." One point raised with which I agree wholeheartedly is the acknowledgment that IT for the most part has kept up with advances in technology (such as BI), but business people are often unable to keep the same pace which ultimately leads to failure of the technology.

Overlooking human issues related to the technology is a key contributor to this failure, Rud explains. A survey of the possibilities for addressing this failure is the real premise of the book, rather than a focus on BI as a technology or process. Chapter 2, "Models from Science and Nature," is an interesting blend of quantum theory, the hive mind, chaos theory, and universality (among others) and a hypothesis that these models might be applied successfully to the business world. But how would you do that?

The goal of Part 2 is to answer that question by enumerating five key competencies that a business must adopt to be competitive and ostensibly to use its information effectively: effective communication, collaboration, innovation, adaptability, and leadership. Each of the five chapters in Part 2 is devoted to one competency. While you won't find anything that directly relates to BI here, you will find some interesting ideas and brief case studies that you might find helpful if you're responsible for managing groups of people.

In Part 3, the book transitions to "Models and Practices." Chapter 8, "Systems Thinking," is where the book gets technical, but not about BI in the pure sense. Instead, the chapter leads you through the application of systems thinking to business analytics, with lots of diagrams to illustrate recurring patterns commonly found in time-series analysis. The final pages of the chapter explain how this approach ties into BI in general. Chapter 9 introduces "Holacracy," an innovative way to manage a business that among other non-traditional practices includes "integrative decision-making."

Part 4 concludes the book with a single chapter, "Possibilities," which imagines a world in which the practice of Holacracy extends beyond business to community, geographical regions, and beyond. The chapter also includes highlights of a few entrepreneurs that exemplify thinking out of the box and fostering positive change in the world. Whereas the book began with an assessment of the world as we know it, it concludes with an inspired vision of the world as it might be.

In the end, I felt that this book was not really about business intelligence after all. But that was just a matter of my personal expectations. If one considers business intelligence as a way of doing business by interacting intelligently with people, then the book provides ample food for thought and describes interesting aspects of current research in fields that relate directly or indirectly to business management. From that perspective, I think it would make a good addition to the curriculum of an MBA program.

Olivia Parr Rud, Business Intelligence Success Factors: Tools for Aligning your business in the Global Economy, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. ISBN: 0470392401.

Published Wednesday, August 25, 2010 8:35 PM by smisner
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