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Business Intelligence:
The Making of the Business Intelligence Poster

  Column published in DM Review Magazine
July 1999 Issue
  By Susan Osterfelt

A Visual Guide to Who Uses What

In November, 1998, Ron Powell, publisher of DM Review, asked me if I thought a poster insert to the magazine depicting a business intelligence road map would be helpful to the readership. My answer: "You bet!" The saga of creating the BI poster that you see as an insert in this issue then began.

I envisioned a landscape that would pictorially represent the users of business intelligence and what tools they use in their work. But what landscape would be effective? And could humor be used to help convey the message?

I conceived the idea of different user types traveling down roads that all lead to the main goal - achieving and capitalizing on business intelligence for the enterprise. I enlisted the help of Bank of America graphic artist, Bruce Goldinger, who put my idea on paper, making it take shape. We tested ideas with Claudia Imhoff, who was boundlessly enthusiastic and had great ideas for some of the subtleties you see on the poster. Let me explain a few!

All roads lead to the corporate information factory, which is the manufacturer of business intelligence. Bill Inmon has long espoused the categorization and naming of different user types. We took his four groups and added one; the resulting five types are tourists, operators, farmers, explorers and miners. Each of those names calls up a mental picture of what that user type does, and we capitalized on that with the characters used to represent each group.

Look closely at the tourists. Tourists are casual users, "just visiting" the data. What do regular tourists wear? Why Hawaiian shirts, of course! And instead of maps to the stars' homes ( la Hollywood), these tourists have star schema data maps to guide them to the areas where the best business decisions dwell.

Operators "run" the enterprise on a day-by-day basis. Their functional area involves lots of data - Data R' Us, by golly! Key performance indicators on the side of the Data R' Us building tell them just how their operation is going. They make key tactical decisions to improve business conditions.

Farmers are more analytical folks. They grow and harvest the data, stocking revenue, cost, volume and other information (in the silo) prior to using it. Farmers look for the proverbial "needle in the haystack," that one piece of information that can provide a sales opportunity or identify a fraudulent condition. They sell their data crops either at fruit and vegetable stands right on the farm (their own functional area such as sales, marketing or finance), or they truck their crops to meet a wider market. Oh, and what about the rabbit and scarecrow in the farmer's field? They indicate the existence of those ever-present, nasty data quality problems! Farmers always want the quality of their produce to be the best it can possibly be.

Explorers, such as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, are out discovering uncharted territory. They use a compass and a map (where available) to understand the data that makes the business work. Miners are out after those nuggets of gold that can be found in ore deep within the data mountains. They can be statisticians or expert analysts who haul data out by the cart load, looking for those patterns and rare insights that can provide their organization competitive advantage.

The road for tourists is one way out of the corporate information factory. Tourists can use data, but they can't update it. And there may be speed bumps (governors) moderating the speed with which tourists can obtain the data, since their pattern of usage is fairly unpredictable. Explorers have a rocky road to business intelligence, reflecting that searching for business meaning can be difficult. They may have to try multiple times before they "make it through" to true understanding.

Miners and farmers both have potholes in their roads to the corporate information factory. Their vehicles can hit a pothole, throwing them temporarily off track in their search for data patterns (miners) or in their monitoring the effect of decisions on the business (farmers). But with good shock absorbers, they can get back on track quickly.

You'll see that data quality is paramount in the corporate information factory. Window washers (Acme Data Cleansing) have a constant battle keeping the glass clean in the data repositories - the data warehouse, operational data store, data marts and exploration warehouse. The "No Dumping" sign reflects the wish of information architects everywhere! Above it all, the Good Data blimp surveys the data landscape.

Travelers throughout the countryside (perhaps travelers within the southeastern U.S. will understand this best) view ads on every barn to "See Rock City," an outpost just down the road that sells trinkets and souvenirs. In the same vein, data travelers can use business intelligence tools to obtain mementos to savor key data points.

The business intelligence tool types that pertain to each user group can be found on billboards in each area. At the bottom of the map is an outline describing the various types of tools.

I hope you enjoy our visual guide to business intelligence user groups and tools. Remember that a little humor can help view the "world of data" from a different perspective. It's important to gain knowledge about our diverse user constituencies, the business functions they perform and the business intelligence tools that can assist them. Architects of the information environment need to provide structures, mechanisms and tools to enable all five groups to use information effectively. Use this poster as a reminder of the business diversity that helps our organizations succeed.


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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