Business Intelligence in a Wiki World!

by Linda Williams on March 28, 2011

The role of the Business Intelligence (BI) function within the organization has become critical to thriving in today’s evolving business environment.   The ultimate purpose of Business Intelligence is to provide management with analytical insights that can be used to improve business performance and competitive position. Analytics provided by the BI department while intended to focus the organization on their core operations and progress toward aligning to their strategic objectives, increasingly can be the impetus for transformational change.

A review of top companies in their industries clearly shows that they all mange their performance using some sort of BI techniques.   The standard tools of BI are based upon gathering actionable metrics that can be used to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations. This data is analyzed and compiled into reports including dashboards, scorecards, and predictive models. As an added service in  more evolved companies, the BI team generally provides consulting on metrics to propose ways to help make better decisions about operations and suggest improvement initiatives.

Often the development of these insights is closely guarded within the company to ensure at least a temporary advantage in the marketplace. The intent is that analytical capabilities will provide them the edge of a first mover as they develop new markets or approaches for their business.

The Problem

This advantage does not last for long in today’s connected world.

The basic analytical tools of BI however are well known in the public domain. Implementing basic BI has become not a luxury but a standard cost of doing business. Books such as Competing on Analytics give many examples of the types of analytics that can be collected and analyzed. There is also a tremendous amount of open information on BI and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on the web. Companies can use this information to identify enhancements to their current analysis through their own review of wikis and blogs and even competitors websites.

The Dilemma

The dilemma of what to hold close and what to open up is increasingly becoming a key decision point in a BI project’s lifecycle. The discussions weigh the pros and cons of when it is best to foster creativity through opening up their research to collaboration and when Intellectual Property (IP) should be preserved.  Often the decisions are not clear cut and there may be lively discussions between the BI team and the executive team around what is the best approach for this situation. At the heart of these discussions is whether competitive advantage would be better served by keeping their intent secret, for the short term, or whether in the interest of speed and expertise it would be better to tap into the wiki community.

Wikis

The overall purpose of Wikis is to provide a place to share content, ideas, links, and collaborate on information, technical documentation, or the development of new ideas. The Wiki world in contrast to the traditional BI world thrives on openness and transparency. Some of the key advantages of the wiki approach are:

  1. The potential to leverage the talents within the wider community;
  2. A reduction in the time to innovation; and
  3. The ability to incorporate social purposes that may go beyond the core competency of the company. An example is using external assistance in developing approaches to help the organization move into to being “green”.

Clearly there are compelling advantages to be gained by developing analytic dimensions with the help of the larger wiki community. Precedents for using this approach are also becoming more common. Some well-known examples of advances made by opening up IP include: the development of Linux; Netflix’s contest to develop an algorithm for customer preferences; and Google’s opening up application development for the Android. In each case the advantages of using the wiki world to enhance what may have been considered to be IP was outweighed by the benefits of collaboration.

Final Thoughts…

Secrecy in all areas of analytical review is no longer possible or even preferable in a world that is increasingly transparent with the pervasive use of social media by today’s employees who are mobile, connected, and less likely than previous generations to remain in one job for long periods. There are significant advantages to a business in tapping into the networked intelligence to speed up problem solving or make breakthroughs. These benefits may in some cases outweigh the potential risk of the competition using the same information or approach. The final decision however cannot be rote but must rest with the complexity of the use and the expertise of internal resources to meet that need.

Written by Linda Williams who is partnered with Datacenter Trust and also has a Business Intelligence consulting practice where she provides businesses with assistance in performance measurement, process improvement, and cost reduction.
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