I had a thought the other day as I made my way into work. I was thinking that the current state of Business Intelligence tools like dashboards and score cards supported by high powered OLAP multi-dimensional data stores have created an environment where it is only a matter of time before we know too much about our organizations. Let me explain.
Back in the innocent days where ‘ignorance was bliss’ what we didn’t know …well - we didn’t know. Today that ‘out of sight - out of mind’ scenario is all but obsolete. With the use of dashboards, among other BI tools, we now know where we stand in every facet of our organization’s daily activities. I think that it’s fair to say that we know more about our daily business happenings today than at any other time in history, and using this knowledge we can actually forecast the future state of what goes on in most areas of organizations. We can no longer claim ignorance, no sir, that ship has sailed. Today more than ever, BI tools have made not knowing a matter of business choice, rather than the symptomatic business condition it once was.
This “sea change”, if you will, irreversibly raises the bar for what we find acceptable, or at least palatable in our business practices. No longer can we state that we suffered an unknown loss, or missed opportunity now that we can accurately measure progress in margins of success, rather than simple profit or loss, success or failure.
Through the shrewd use of BI tools we have become ‘all knowing’ in our daily business progress, and future performance. One must ponder the question “will we be destined to become a dissatisfied lot that considers success or failure by unrealized potential for growth, rather than actual growth?” We can already see this sort of assumptive thinking emerging in business circles abroad. For example, imagine that some analysts had forecast a goal of $300 million in growth for their organization which then achieves a respectable $285 million, short a mere $15 million. In the old days this was a success, a cause for celebration – or at least a pat on the back. Instead today it seems that shareholders, and business media, report this sort of performance as if it were a loss, saying that growth fell short of expectations, etc. The result is a conglomerate of dissatisfied shareholders who see this as a corporate failure, rather than as a victory for a goal very nearly acquired.
Aloft now are expectations of grandeur, where corporate managers are expected to come to within a granular measure of accuracy in their predictive statements. It would seem that too much of a good thing has the potential for becoming a breeding ground for intolerance and inflexibility. How long can it be before someone proclaims “The system has calculated this figure, and we cannot be responsible for it in the event that it does not materialize itself into reality.” Worse, how long will it be before we actually accept this line of reasoning as shareholders or business people? Would it be outrageous for dueling business analysts to argue using their dashboards to support their arguments to a board of directors or managers? One saying that his dashboard said this, while the other insists that his dashboard tells a very different story. Who should we believe? And which dashboard? Dissatisfied once again for not receiving the concise answer to the question posed, the board must remain vigilant. It smacks of a good British comedy where bumbling business managers miss what is before their very eyes, hiding in plain site as it were.
What is the alternative: Do we abandon digital dashboards that have proven themselves to be marvels of Business Engineering? Clearly no. Predictive analytics presents us with the unique opportunity to peer into the future of our organization’s expected performance, and not knowing is far too frightening for those who are charged with reading the tea leaves and ensuring it will happen. Of course, some perspective is in order: intelligent dashboards are the natural answer to many concerns that plague business people today. However dashboards do not live and breathe on their own, nor do they possess the intuition necessary to act on an emerging trend in a savvy or judicious business manner. The human element, thankfully, remains a requirement.
My grandfather used to complain aloud that kids these days can’t even calculate the sales tax on a simple purchase order without the use of some fancy calculator. He was constantly reminding me that in the old days it was all done by hand, using nothing more than a good pencil and paper, and that the mundane art of calculating the sale and making change is now a lost art. Then again, come to think of it, he never really was very satisfied with the whole business process anyway.
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