Business Intelligence? Yes Minister!

May 16, 2011
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I recently watched an episode of the classic BBC series ‘Yes, Minister’.

In this episode, the minister asked his assistant, Bernard, to inquire about a new hospital where there are supposedly no patients and a ridiculous amount of administrative staff. Bernard conducts some research and returns to the minister with his results.

Here’s a short transcript:

Bernard– You asked me to find out about an alleged empty hospital in north London.

I recently watched an episode of the classic BBC series ‘Yes, Minister’.

In this episode, the minister asked his assistant, Bernard, to inquire about a new hospital where there are supposedly no patients and a ridiculous amount of administrative staff. Bernard conducts some research and returns to the minister with his results.

Here’s a short transcript:

Bernard– You asked me to find out about an alleged empty hospital in north London.

Minister– Oh, yes.
Bernard– Well, in fact there are *only* 342 administrative staff in the new St. Edwards hospital. The other 170 are porters, cleaners, laundry workers, gardeners, cooks and so forth.
Minister– And how many medical staff?
Bernard– Oh, none of those.
Minister– None??
Bernard– No.
Minister– Bernard, we are talking about St. Edwards’s hospital, aren’t we?
Bernard– Yes, it’s brand new. It was completed 15 months ago and is fully staffed. But unfortunately at that time there were government cutbacks and consequently there was no money left for medical services.
Minister– A brand new hospital with over 500 non-medical staff and no patients??
Bernard– Oh, there is one patient, sir.
Minister– One?
Bernard– Yes. The deputy chief administrator fell over a piece of scaffolding and broke his leg
Minister– Oh god. Thank heavens I wasn’t asked about this in The House. Why hasn’t it got out?
Bernard– Well actually I think it’s being contrived to keep looking like a building site and so far no one realized it’s operational.
Minister– I think I better go and have a look at this before the opposition does.

This episode (‘The Compassionate Society’, 1981) is hilarious. But how is it relevant to business intelligence?
Well, think that instead of a conversation between a minister and his assistant about a new hospital, this conversation is actually between a CEO and his CIO regarding an ongoing business intelligence project.
You’ve got yourself a conversation which is still happening more often than not in BI projects, 30 years later.
A business intelligence solution without users is like a hospital without patients. It provides work for IT/implementers/consultants (=administrative staff) but it is of no use to the business users (=patients) for whom the BI solution (=hospital) is actually intended.
Spending too much upfront and going into long development cycles only to find out your ultimate customers – the business users – won’t actually use it is a sure-fire way of making a bad investment, running out of budget and getting laughed at by the BBC. You don’t want that, do you?