The Dark Side of Business Intelligence

Table of Contents

    fake dataA well implemented reporting processes and tools can be scary for some.  If your company reporting tool relies on Excels, PDFs and PowerPoints, then there is always an opportunity for you to “tweak” the results.  It’s not necessarily lying but rather an adjustment.  Just enough so that the line chart looks steeper, numbers are rounded up (or down), tables are filtered to certain rows, and columns are hidden to “make it more readable”.

    But a fully automated, simple, standardized data warehouse and reporting system that publishes dashboards to everyone in the company on a regular basis and keeps everyone informed about the status and progress of all performance indicators? Scary!

    85% of statistics are wrong

    Have you heard of those statistics that some ridiculous large percentage of BI projects fail and the top 5 reasons why they do?  Typically they cover items such as the wrong tool, undefined processes, change management, etc. etc.  I believe that the number one reason why they fail, especially in large corporations is because such level of transparency scares most business managers, all the way up to board members and shareholders.

    I was once part of a project team responsible to deliver a new BI initiative and as the leading business analyst I was faced with opposition at every level, from the regional manager to the top corporate member.  It just seemed that I was “simplifying” things too much, or not “understanding” the complexity of the metric, and how they need time to “analyze results” prior to sharing them.  Often the phrase “we prefer accuracy over speed” was used in meetings.  Often this accuracy would require several additional months of implementation and forced delays in report publication.

    In the end, the implementation went live but with such a limited number of metrics and performance indicators that it was, essentially, useless.  Whatever data of value was provided, it ended up being exported to Excel for the actual calculation and final publication anyway.

    Highly unsatisfying knowing that after several million of dollars later, we basically released what could have been achieved by sending everyone an email with an Excel every week (although it was disputed that even such level of automation and data feed would be disruptive to some).

    Business Manager 2.0

    Do you have an alternative?  Keep “fudging” reports until everyone in your company loses trust in them and in you?  Make a mistake severe enough to cost you more than just your time?  This is the type of practice that many large corporations employ to ensure their stocks remain high, to push their sales people to sell more, to stress teams to deliver more for less and ultimately to cheat the other party into thinking their numbers are not good enough or just the opposite, they are absolutely off the chart.

    As a manager I am responsible for reporting numbers to my investors, employees, partners and customers.  One of my biggest concerns is to ensure that I am absolutely clear and transparent with anything that I share or present.  To the point that I get in trouble sometimes by being “too accurate” and “not exciting enough”.

    On the bright side, the tide is changing.  A new generation of business owners and managers are now taking positions higher in corporate structure and they demand speed, automation, efficiencies and electronic delivery.  Away with paper and presentations and emails.  They use Skype and Slack, they edit their own LinkedIn, measure their own profiles and are very good at doing fancy stuff in Excel.  They go out and look for SaaS apps that can simplify their routine, improve speed and delivery.  And they do all this out of their own initiative without the need for IT or Financial approvals.  Most cloud SaaS solutions offer a free or low cost version that they can easily own in their own discretionary budget.

    But more importantly, they are politics free.  They don’t mind upsetting the status quo because their priority is getting the job done the quickest and best way possible. They don’t mind sacrificing 100% accuracy for 80% if they can get their data 5 or 10 times faster and a much reduced cost, without having to wait on others.  They understand that “guesstimates”  are sometimes more accurate than the final, sanitized numbers – if there was ever such a thing to begin with.  Trust your instincts, use your experience, your “gut” as Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book Blink.  They are risk takers, data and technology savvy, and hungry for speed.  These women and men will eventually be taking CEO roles and board seats in all types of companies and they will change the way businesses are run worldwide.  And we love it!

    Transparency Pays

    There is a saying along the lines of “it’s easier to remember the truth than a lie”.  It may take you several iterations to make the data and the dashboards display the right numbers on demand or at a specific time every day, without you having to do a single thing about it.  Your team, employees, partners, will also get their dashboards and be aware of whats really going on.  It helps communication, expectations.  It increases efficiency. It reduces time spent on mundane and non-business focused tasks. And it may even help save your business.