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Thursday, 17 January 2013

Business Intelligence and Power View: a Subtle Change or an Inflection Point?

Can organisations be brave enough use their data to get along the 'inflection point'? If so, how can they do it? Can Power View help?

Andrew Grove wrote a book Only the Paranoid Survive, which discusses how Intel survived change after change in the computing industry. Grove had a very interesting idea: businesses are affected by six forces, both internal and external:

- existing competition
- complementary businesses
- customers
- potential customers
- possibility of alternative ways of achieving the same end
- suppliers

Grove proposed that, if these forces stayed equivalent, that the company will steer a steady course.

However, what happens if any of the forces increase or decrease in terms of their pressure? Can this change turn into an inflection point? An inflection point is illustrated below, courtesy of Wolfram Mathworld.  


In other words, the inflection point is where the curvature of a line goes from negative to positive.

Translated into business terms, this can be considered as part of a maturity process, whereby the immature company goes through a turbulent 'adolescence', to reach maturity.

If you've been part of this process, you'll recognise the signs. Team members who do not like change, for example, and are resistant to new ideas. Perhaps you see that your organisation is offering new products and services from the business perspective, but IT is simply not keeping up with the changes foisted on them. That's when silly mistakes can happen; for example, server failure since 'everybody' was too busy trying to paste over the cracks but didn't look at the fundamental issues because they were chasing their tails.

From a Business Intelligence perspective, I think it can be important to understand that Business Intelligence problems can actually be Change Management problems; they have to be understood as exposing less visible failures in the system. In other words, it isn't the SSRS report that's wrong; it's the failure of the processes that produce the report in the first place, so it no longer answers the 'business question'.
  
Essentially, the business has changed but isn't served any longer, by the supporting players.

How does the enterprise get upwards and onwards? There are whole books written on this issue, but one way to look at it is to move people away from 'gut feel' towards data-based analysis. This can be extremely hard to do.  For some people, they will simply never listen to what the data is showing them. Perhaps they may even recognise that they aren't producing the 'supporting act' data in the first place, to move the business forward.

One way to engage people in data is to give them access to it, and Power View in Excel 2013 is an accessible way of doing just that. There is a lot of value in letting people 'see' the answers for themselves. There is danger too; they will soon see the 'failures' in the data - where it is poor, wrong, or just plain missing.

It's an adventure with data. It's up to the organisations themselves to see if can be brave enough use their data to get along the 'inflection point'. It might just be a subtle change for them; or it could open up the opportunity to allow people to see their data. 

Power View is more than just pretty pictures because it can really mean engagement with the data, and encourage exploration to an Excel-oriented audience who didn't have the opportunity to visualise and play with their data in this way before.

Don't be fooled because it is in Excel - it can help your business users to ask new questions of their data. It's a change of thinking about data, putting it into the hands of business users who can change the organisation. Perhaps they will help organisations to move along the 'inflection point' towards maturity.

That's the real power of Power View.


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