I was involved with three go-lives this month. Not all of them required the same level of engagement, that was the major survival factor for me, but nevertheless I got into an interesting discussion with a colleague.
– So it was three projects this month, huh? All of the NAV? – she asked.
– No, it was one NAV, two of them were business intelligence ones.
– Ah, ok, so they are not business critical. – she concluded.
This clicked a switch in my head. That exactly was what I normally thought of business intelligence. It is reporting, scorecarding, analysis, dragging’n’dropping dimensions, playing with numbers… Not something that a company can’t really go without. Or at the very least, not something that would cause a business to halt. At that, it’s really not business critical, at least not from business continuity perspective.
But that take-it-for-granted way of thinking that I obviously had about business intelligence, which I only realized when I heard someone else express the same, challenged me. So, just for fun, and as a thought experiment, I decided to take an opposite position:
– Oh, but they are business critical.
– How come? – said she – It is just reporting, right? How can a report be business critical?
– A report as such probably can’t, but report is there to serve a purpose. A business intelligence system is a decision support system. How critical is decision making for a company?
Thence it sprang.
At that very moment I asked myself the same question. How critical decision making really is? From a perspective of a typical ERP consultant, it is easy to say that ERP systems are critical. If your software has blocked, and a truck is waiting for a shipment note, and it is frozen fish it is delivering, there is a limited amount of time before your merchandise becomes unusable, and you can easily quantify, in monetary terms, how much does an ERP system downtime cost you.
– But how can you calculate a cost of a delayed decision? – she insisted – Finally, if a strategic decision is made an hour late, it doesn’t change anything.
She almost made a point. But decisions aren’t made at strategic level only. It’s not only the top executives that make decisions – of course, if a company strategy comes an hour later than planned, it won’t usually change a bit. But decisions are made at all levels. A doorman is deciding who to admit to a building, a truck driver is deciding which route to take, a material planner is deciding which exact interchangeable item to use for a process, a purchaser is deciding which purchasing order to give preference. Tons of operational decisions are brought at a snap, every day, everywhere, and most of them based on intuition, hunch, gut feeling, experience.
Business intelligence systems are there to replace all of these. Somehow, they are more reliable. Another Seth’s post just supports me in this thinking. Sometimes, we do something, or decide something because we think the answer is obvious. When we crunch the numbers, we find out how wrong we really were. Business intelligence can fix this.
If it costs you more to use item A instead of item B to manufacture your finished products, how much does an hour of not deciding to swap really cost you? What if it costs the same, but products with component A have lower defect rate than those with component B, how much does it cost you then? What if you decided to change an inefficient route with a more efficient one? What if you decided to exchange your fast manufacturing equipment with even faster one, instead of changing two slow ones with only slightly faster ones? There are tons of similar what-ifs, at all levels, strategic, tactical and operational.
It’s hard to get a business intelligence system to work efficiently on all these levels, but once you do, wouldn’t your decisions be less costly? Wouldn’t any costs related to bad decision making become more obvious?