Monday, March 16, 2009

Information Over Load

Information Over Load

I love technology.  Technology has improved my life greatly, especially considering my income is completely related to technology.  There is a downside to all this technology though and I don't think that we may even be able to scratch the surface on how all of this will affect our future.  When a pharmaceutical company comes out with a new drug, it must first go through rigid testing to find out how that drug may adversely affect us.  There may be some benefit to analyze our technology this way as well.,,, and are some fairly recent examples of new and innovative Web 2.0 type applications that are having a profound affect on our society.  Take facebook, my daughters are constantly on facebook, they chat with their friends, send them messages, post pictures.  If you ever want to know what is going on in their life, you don't need to sit down at the dinner table, simply log onto facebook and you will find out everything.  My point in all this is that today, there is a ton of information out there for anything and anyone.  We are constantly being bombarded by information, status updates, profile updates, picture updates, tweets, twitters, whatever.  This presents a new problem moving forward.  

In the past, businesses had a difficult time making decisions due to not having enough information.  Business Intelligence is around because companies need access to crucial information that was buried deep down in their computer systems and again, the problem that was typical was that they could not get to the information, therefore, limiting the amount of data you had access to.  I think we can all agree that technology has come to a point that we are really no longer limited by it.  We are now limited by the processing power of the human brain.  I believe it was in the book Good to Great where author Jim Collins wrote in one of the chapters about a brokerage firm and how they were able to maximize the effectiveness of their brokers.  They did a study to find out what the maximum number of contacts could handle without letting any fall through the cracks...these contacts would include both actual clients and prospects.  You see the brokers would spend hours and hours on the phone, making hundreds of dials a day...they are limited to the number of times they could dial the phone and reach the person they were intending to reach.  Factor in time for dial, leaving voice mail, missing a returned call, calling prospects and clients back calculated to 300 contacts in their 'books'.  At the time I read this I was the IT Director at a major investment relations firm.  So what did I do?  Using the data I had been collecting on our call center, I wrote a BI application to analyze the results that Jim Collins found and I was able to verify the information and make the appropriate recommendations to our sales.

Similar to brokers only having enough cycles to handle a book (list of prospects and clients) of about 300, information consumers only have enough bandwidth and brain power to handle only so much information.  For example, think of the CEO in your company.  He has information coming to him constantly.  It may be human resources related, sales related, operations related, production/manufacturing related, marketing related, merger and acquisition related, external economics related, personal/family related.  Our brains can only handle so much at a time, and we cannot upgrade to a brain clustered environment.  All of this information is competing with each other.  So the question is how much information can we handle before we reach information overload and start blocking out things....or information starts falling through the cracks.  I was once consulting with a company on developing their web presence and when we were discussing the home page of their site, I asked, what I thought at the time was a relatively simple question, "What is the most important thing you want to point out about your company?"  The answer they gave me was frustrating.....they said,"everything".  This resulting in a hours long discussion about, if everything stands out then nothing stands out.  It reminds me of a saying, "You are special, just like everyone else".

What does this long rant have to do with BI?  Well, BI is presenting information that is simply just noise among noise.  It is information that is fed to whichever information consumer we deem to require it and we expect the end user to determine it's importance.  Here is what we need...we need a system that can automatically inform us in a manner that will give it a larger priority over all the other noise and in a way we understand and respond to.  This is where technology innovation has to meet creativity.  Stephen Few has some good examples and blogs about meaningful ways to present data in an efficient and concise manner.

The purpose of this post is not to give you a solution to this problem but rather present a discussion point on how BI can help become a filter for all of this noise.