Keep It Simple

Simplicity is great if it works. By nature, Business Intelligence is not simple – there are lots of moving parts and a lot of coordination. However, resigning yourself to complexity is not necessary, in my opinion. There may be simpler quick wins along the way. It’s a matter of understanding customer needs and focusing on what they really expect versus “the whole nine yards.”

At a large American health care provider, the prevailing theory was that a new BI system needed to be built. The new system would address a large swath of data analysis requirements in many departments. Meanwhile, a doctor doing cancer research was manually maintaining data in a simple spreadsheet. Moreover, data arrived in plain text format with a lot of “garbage” characters in it. The doctor dutifully read through the text data and picked out what she needed for her spreadsheet. The doctor did this on a regular basis. It was a Herculean task every single time, to say the least. A piece of software to help her sift through the raw data and automatically pull out what’s relevant is all it took to get her to the grant money she was seeking.

Sure, a hospital may need the new system in the near future, but small problems also need to be addressed and now. The small amount of time it takes to implement a simple solution may be well worth it in terms of value to the client and the learning experience for future BI development. In fact, clients who get early simple results sometimes realize they are not ready for a full blown BI project, nor require it. That’s a good thing because nobody wants to find out well into a major undertaking that a customer wasn’t ready. Small engagements can reveal potential blind spots.

Our experience shows us that BI projects tend to be large and that people tend to think large because of it. Whenever people think large, the small things tend to elude them. Rory Sutherland – a marketing expert – gave a very interesting TED talk some time ago discussing the paradox of grand solutions with low or no impact. We’ve had instances where BI projects were reconsidered in light of smaller and more effective proposals.

None of this is to say that BI projects have little or no value. In fact, the exact opposite is true – business intelligence, when implemented correctly, brings out the best in businesses. However, BI can sometimes be a much more successful proposition if we address the small things.

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