Thursday, September 25, 2008

BAM BI, or, The Importance of Being Human

In a LinkedIn discussion group, Seth Grimes posed a simple question: "Should Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) be considered a Business Intelligence (BI) application?"

In other words, is BAM BI? This question went out to all individuals in the LinkedIn EPM Business Intelligence group, but who should respond to Seth's question but Howard Dresner himself, the ultimate definer of BI. Now that is a little like kneeling to pray for guidance and immediately having God tap you on the shoulder.

It is not like Seth is some newbie BI person asking silly questions. Far from it. He chairs the annual North American and European Text Analytics Summits and is contributing editor for Intelligent Enterprise magazine (CMP).

Here is Howard's response to Seth's question:

"By definition, BI is about enabling end users with access to and analysis of data. Hence, I believe BAM is BI when the user is involved in the decision-making process. BAM can also be used for decision automation, which would not be BI. "

Howard, of course, means by his definition. Howard created the business intelligence world in 6 sentences and rested on the 7th blank line. And Howard saw that it was good.

Some naïve LinkedIn members disagreed with Howard and they were promptly struck down with fire and brimstone. Anybody who questions Howard on his own definition of BI would merely be Job shouting to the heavens, "Hey, I think you made a mistake down here, God!"

Despite the risk of BI swords, pestilence, and famines, let's look closely at Howard's position.

By His intelligent design, in a BI application, thou shalt have humans. If people are there to use the analytic results, then an application passes the Dresner BI Criterion. On the other hand, if the software provides intelligence to another non-human application, then it is no longer BI. It is merely "decision automation."

So if I examine stock trends online and decide to buy some shares of Starbucks, I am using a BI application. But if I set up an automated agent to watch the stock market and it invests in Starbucks for me, then it is not BI. Interesting.

But wait, I am a human shareholder now despite the manner of having bought the stock, so doesn't that count for me being involved somewhere in the process? After all, I put my decision-making process into the rules of the application, so I am there in proxy.

Granted, I didn't shout, "Eureka!" and move my mouse to click on the buy button, but the application knew that I would because I had already advised it to perform as if it were me. Shouldn't that count as BI? Or do BI qualities somehow decline the farther downstream the user is from the software application itself?

Perhaps this is like not hearing the tree that falls in the forest if you are not there. If an intelligent activity happened and no user was sitting at the screen to see it, then did the BI not really happen?

Continuing our inquiry into this religious doctrine of BI, let's consider an analogy. Delta Flight 1700 flies from Atlanta to Cincinnati with passengers, so it is obviously a passenger plane. While in Cincinnati, the Delta people remove the seats and fly the same plane back to Atlanta with pallets of boxes filled with canned beans. We would agree that this is now a cargo plane. But it is still an airplane, right? It is definitely still part of our transportation system.

Or would not having any human passengers inside immediately turn an airplane into something else? This is deep stuff, Howard.

Perhaps I should post my own question on a LinkedIn forum: "What sort of penance do you think is adequate in Howard's eyes for my BI blasphemy?"


Larry Eiss said...

Post this on LinkedIn and you may well find out what penance is required. LOL

I think the problem is that your examples are a bit oversimplified. A single decision that can be made by applying a rule, or set of rules, does not qualify as Business Intelligence in Mr. Dresner's view because he knows that BI is much more complex than that.

The reason the BI market segment exists is exactly because the quantity and types of decisions to be made require actual human analysis and judgment. They can't generally be reduced to a set of unthinking rules.

This is a primary reason why many or the leading BI tools available today are seen as highly complex by a significant segment of the customer base. They need great flexibility and power if they are to be used to point out areas of concern and interest and help people make hard decisions.

To-date, no completely elegant UI design exists to simplify that type of tool-set to the point where anybody can use it without some sort of training or ramp-up time.

When (if) that does happen, perhaps BI will cease to exist by Mr. Dresner's definition. Having served its purpose, it will have earned its rest.

Larry Eiss - Director, Information Builders, Inc.

James Taylor said...

The problem of a broad definition! BI can be defined by Howard, or anyone else but there is a pressure from reality. The reality is that "BI" has come to mean "that set of functions provided by BI vendors".

BI vendors do, almost always, require a person to interpret the results of the data analysis they enable. As such they are decision support products. A different group of vendors (executable analytics, Complex Event Processing, business rules and others) are focused on decision management and automation - defining how a system should respond but basing that definition in part on data analysis.

Is BAM BI? Not sure. Is decision automation BI? Nope.


James Taylor
Author, with Neil Raden, of Smart (Enough) Systems

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.