Mainstream BI May Bring Failed Apprentices - InformationWeek

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1/3/2007
12:25 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Mainstream BI May Bring Failed Apprentices

I once had the pleasure of hearing Louis Rossetto, co-founder and then editor of Wired Magazine, talk about the impact the Internet would have on more-established media. It won't kill older media, he said, but it will have an indelible impact. I'm now reminded of those comments as once-specialized software vendors eye mainstream deployments.

Way back in the mid 1990s, I had the pleasure of hearing Louis Rossetto, co-founder and then editor of Wired Magazine, speak in New York about the future of the Internet and its impact on more-established media. The Internet, he said, would not kill older media, just as radio had not brought an end to newspapers nor television the demise of radio or cinema. The Internet would, however, have an indelible impact, he reasoned, freeing each form of media to evolve to exploit its natural strengths.

Here we are ten years later with divisive talk radio dominating the air waves, Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) and American Idol dominating the TV ratings and YouTube and MySpace taking mind share on the Internet. Okay, so Rossetto was talking about an evolution, not a renaissance, but somehow I don't think he expected us to be slouching toward mediocrity on all fronts.What Rossetto really had in mind, I think, was freeing media to serve niche interests rather than attempting to be all things to all people. The economics of all media boils down to cost per thousand, and there's always a tension between trying to please the masses (a la American Idol and YouTube) and trying to reaching a specific audience with selective information (at a higher cost per thousand). Rossetto's comments came to mind last week as I was reviewing our top-15 stories of 2006. You might think of all of technology as niche, but while some focus on the broad market -- with a steady drumbeat of coverage of all things Windows, Office, Google and iTunes -- Intelligent Enterprise has stayed focused on BI, information management, information integration, process management, enterprise apps and supporting better decision making within mid-sized and large enterprises.

Software publishers, too, live and die by cost-per-thousand economics and the tension between trying to serve the masses and providing specialized tools for expert users. Even within the enterprise niche, software vendors crave the lucrative mainstream market. That's what's behind the focus on the small- and midsize-enterprise market and the move toward "operational BI."

Personally, I'm a bit skeptical that the business masses are really ready to make broad, meaningful use of technologies that heretofore required a lot of training and experience. As the old saying goes, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, so I fear that search-powered interfaces and universally accessible reporting tools, for example, will enable untrained users to misinterpret data, inappropriately compare disparate information and jump to wrong conclusions.

A few years ago content management vendors promoted the idea of "everyone being a content contributor," but the downside was seeing hundreds of new silos of information in the form of Web sites and repositories with inconsistent management and navigation regimes -- like so many versions of MySpace.com, but with truly valuable corporate information at risk.

Before you're dazzled by dreams of mainstream BI, content management or any other enterprise-class of software, play close attention to the real business needs and opportunities. As Wayne Eckerson points out in See It Coming, a cautionary treatise on the mainstreaming of performance management tools (and one of last year's top-15 stories at IntelligentEnterprise.com), "not all dashboards and scorecards are created equal. Some are simply prettified versions of spreadsheet-like reports. Like pigs with lipstick, such dashboards and scorecards are dolled-up "spreadmarts" that can obscure what's important and undermine performance."

Despite the many BI-search integrations announced last year, we have yet to talk to an organization that's putting the combination into use. Querying without the complexity of using a structured query language sounds good on paper, but will those newby users be effective BI Scene Investigators, forming the right searches and interpreting data correctly? The danger is that they'll come up with that many more versions of the truth and make bad business decisions based on spurious data. I sense Donald Trump waiting in the wings ready to say "you're fired" for being a failed BI Apprentice.I once had the pleasure of hearing Louis Rossetto, co-founder and then editor of Wired Magazine, talk about the impact the Internet would have on more-established media. It won't kill older media, he said, but it will have an indelible impact. I'm now reminded of those comments as once-specialized software vendors eye mainstream deployments.

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