Pervasiveness and micro-decisions

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Unlike Judith Hurwitz (see “Can we free process and data?”) I was not at IBM’s Information On Demand (IOD) conference last week. Partly this is because IBM now runs a European IOD event, partly it is because I met with Ambuj Goyal (head of Business Analytics and Performance Optimization at IBM) in Paris in September and got pre-briefed on “information-led transformation” and partly because IBM knows very well that I won’t go to Las Vegas (everybody should go there once—I’ve been there once).

Anyway, what about information-led transformation (ILT)? This is IBM’s next step in its strategic direction for information management: first there was information on demand, through which IBM talked about unlocking the value of information, then the information agenda—which describes “how” one can unlock that value (and which has been astonishingly successful) and now there is ILT. What is it exactly?

Let me take a step back. A few years ago all the BI vendors (and ILT is not just about BI—it’s about business optimisation—but I’ll get to that point in a moment) were pushing the idea of “pervasive BI”. The problem with this is that it is essentially a contradiction in terms. What BI is all about, as it is most usually understood, is doing some slicing and dicing, or analytics, or data mining, that supports a very limited number of people within the organisation. Typical BI tools are simply not suited to day-to-day use by average employees. Yes, you can add a search interface that makes it easier for non-technical people to query the data but the truth is that most people in their day to day jobs don’t have, or don’t perceive themselves as having, a need to run queries per se.

What ILT does, at least in part, is to recognise that this concept of pervasiveness doesn’t work. That traditional BI is about making macro-level decisions. On the other hand, there is a huge constituency of people who do have to make micro-decisions on a daily basis. And these people need to have relevant information in order to make those decisions. This is what ILT is all about: providing people with the information they need (and only the information they need) to take all those little decisions that they have to make every day.

Now, you don’t want BI for this purpose and you don’t want people to have to run queries; you want information provided within a business process or application, or maybe presented via a dashboard, that just provides the information that is necessary for that particular worker. This is what ILT is all about: enabling people to do their jobs better through the provision of relevant information.

What that means is that the information has to be in the right format, it has to be trustworthy, it has to be available when you need it, and you need to make sure that your information is aligned with your business objectives. And that’s when you get into the technology and solutions, because IBM aims to provide exactly those capabilities through its various products and services, whether that’s leveraging BI, data mining, the underlying database, data integration, its business glossary, master data management, data quality, its industry-specific information agenda roadmaps, tools and accelerators or any of a number of other offerings. As far as the end user is concerned, of course, all of this is invisible.

Of course, it’s not just about transformation, ILT is also about continuous improvement but ILTACI would be a bit of mouthful. Whatever you call it, this is exactly the sort of thing that businesses ought to be thinking about.