Baconators, Batteries, and BI

November 25, 2008
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Many organizations have a “Just the Facts, Ma’am” attitude, which misses the point of BI. Having the world’s largest data warehouse on display in the Guinness book of records provides far less value than simply making good use of the collected information.

Evan, my teenage son, recently started driving my old Honda. He kept telling me about maintenance issues: the air in the front tire is low, there is a funny noise when starting the car in the m


Many organizations have a “Just the Facts, Ma’am” attitude, which misses the point of BI. Having the world’s largest data warehouse on display in the Guinness book of records provides far less value than simply making good use of the collected information.

Evan, my teenage son, recently started driving my old Honda. He kept telling me about maintenance issues: the air in the front tire is low, there is a funny noise when starting the car in the morning, the Valvoline sticker says the car is 1000 miles past an oil change. When he brought me these facts, I would just respond with, “Sure, we’ll have to do something about that.”

The problem is, my son didn’t and I didn’t. We had the facts; we just never made thoughtful decisions that might have led to proactive tasks. Instead, we were ultimately forced to respond to crises.

Evan called me one evening from the nearby Wendy’s, “Hey, I stopped to eat a Baconator and now the car won’t start.” The battery was dead. A week later another call came to me, “Hey, I was driving and something happened to the tire.” It was flat.

Business Intelligence is not about just gathering facts. Even with all the facts, bad things can still happen to you. If you want real value from BI, you have to think about the facts and take the appropriate action.

At our local DAMA event, Bill Inmon spoke about his clients’ gigantic data warehouses. Some amassed hundreds of thousands of terabytes — call records for a telecommunications giant; cash register receipts for a large retailer. Bill estimated the infrastructure cost of managing each terabyte at somewhere between $750,000 and $1 billion USD.

Bill then said something strange: most companies use only a small fraction of what they put into the data warehouse. At first, it sounded like the creator had indicted his invention. Since Bill is unlikely to do that, he was evidently expressing the sad fact that most companies do not effectively use what they are paying so dearly to capture.

You must have the facts, but if you forgo decisions and never act, you may end up with the corporate equivalent of a dead battery and flat tire.

 

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