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Dollars & Sense:
Postcards from BI Land

  Column published in DM Review Magazine
August 2004 Issue
  By Susan Osterfelt

This month I am writing in the "postcard" format I first used in October 2003 , where each topic is covered briefly rather than in depth. Rationale? More people will take the time to read postcards than long letters. These postcards aren't from Fantasy Land or Tomorrow Land ­ they're from Business Intelligence (BI) Land! Enjoy!

Bad Times Postcard

While spending for IT in general has reflected the economic downturn, spending for BI has grown. BI is necessary in bad times as well as good. In fact, a case could be made for BI being even more necessary in bad times. When margins are tight, competition for customers is at an all-time high. Costs need to be controlled, and business managers need to have information at their fingertips to analyze trends, hone their customer acquisition strategies with pinpoint accuracy and tightly manage their supply chains. BI solutions don't cost that much and can have dramatic results in terms of making decisions that positively affect top- and bottom-line growth. Obviously, continued BI spending reflects IT management's realization of BI's worth to the organization to help it succeed through periods of economic uncertainty.

High Quality Postcard

Total Quality Management and Six Sigma efforts have been around for a long time and have helped many organizations bring their processes under control. More companies are jumping on the "quality" bandwagon each year. Even service-based organizations are now seeing the benefits of quality programs that manufacturing organizations made famous. What effect does taking on a quality initiative have on BI? The need for BI increases significantly. Quality efforts require fact-based decision making, and BI provides the ability for process control managers to get the facts. Quality programs are good news for BI!

Clean Postcard

Business and IT managers both know that you can't obtain good results with dirty data. Data cleansing solutions are not as sexy as BI tools, however, and rarely do they get the attention from management that they should; yet they are very necessary to achieve meaningful results from BI efforts. They work very hard behind the scenes. In fact, they may be the most helpful when they are invisible - when the data is accurate and people don't even know what had to be done to get it in that condition! People often don't give data cleansing tools the credit they are due. Viva data cleansing tools!

Visual Postcard

A picture paints a thousand words. (That may be one reason why we send postcards!) Data visualization tools, which utilize spatial dimensions as well as color and hue to depict data in a way that the human mind can instantly understand, have been commercially available since the late 1980s/early 1990s. While there are many specialized data visualization applications that are used successfully in manufacturing, scientific industries and other businesses that have significant complexity, data visualization has yet to gain widespread acceptance for fundamental business functions. There seems to be a huge potential for data visualization to help the basic business manager come to grips more quickly with sales trends, cost overruns, customer preferences, data correlations, data outliers and the like. We need to look for opportunities to let a picture, rather than rows and columns of data, tell the story.

Theoretical Postcard

Have you heard about quantum computing yet? It is a fascinating subject. While it is very theoretical at this point in time, quantum computing could have tremendous implications for BI in the future. Quantum computers, which are being researched today at various think tanks, store and process information by exploiting the laws of quantum physics that govern subatomic particles. They are being touted as having the potential of providing exponential improvements in the speed of database searches and performing calculations that are virtually impossible today. A quantum computer has not yet been built, but its idea is that a particle can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time - versus an electronic computer, where each bit must be either a 1 or a 0. Quantum computers should be able to scale exponentially from electronic computers and provide a truly next-generation ability to analyze data. Stay tuned as the U.S. government and major U.S. corporations allocate research and development resources to determine quantum computing's possibilities. (Okay ... maybe this postcard is from Tomorrow Land!)

Having a great time!


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI).

Susan Osterfelt is senior vice president at Bank of America, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be reached at susan.osterfelt@bankofamerica.com.

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