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January 9, 2015

We’re All Chefs in the Business Intelligence Kitchen

Anthony Krinsky

When I grew up, meatloaf was a feast.  Today, it’s at best “old-school.” Recipes are less frequently “passed down” than they are improved upon, deconstructed or “played on.”  Cooking shows seem to be on every channel at every hour.

Why is it cooking so much more than food?  As psychologists would say, cooking can be a “flow” activity: not too hard, but not too easy, provides quick feedback, and gets better with practice. It’s creative, even if our only flare is spicing up the barbeque sauce, and it creates communities both at home and across continents.

It turns out that modern business intelligence is actually very similar to cooking – although its transformative potential has been mostly overlooked.

Like five star restaurants, we have historically asked business intelligence solutions to produce the “perfect dish.” The goal was to produce a “million-dollar” insight or metrics with sufficient precision to render conversation and interaction unnecessary. Dashboards were expensive and complicated, prepared by experts, and served with ceremony.

In cooking, innovators identified a way to increase accessibility in the mid-1990s when The Food Network, a channel dedicated to “way more than cooking” was launched.

In analytics, today’s innovators understand that business intelligence is “way more than reports.” They are taking what was once a highly specialized art and bringing it to every desktop. And while there is still a role for Data Scientists, the Master Chefs of the data world, there’s an insatiable demand for every knowledge worker to analyze data on their own, wherever and whenever. Organizations enabling self-service at scale and are seeing transformative shifts in their analytics culture.

As with cooking, organizations are ramping up education and taking a programmatic approach to enablement. Rather than treating business intelligence as an isolated technology, they are bringing over the best tools from other software deployments: special interest group mailing lists, formal training opportunities, help desks, executive sponsorship, thoughtfully designed intranet sites, and office hours. They’re also adding a generous helping of face-to-face collaboration, competition, celebrity, and fun.

IT and business are partnering together and dividing roles to bring about best practices in business intelligence. Back-end data sources are clean and well documented. Report development shifts to business. A buddy system emerges. The “water fall” report-development process disappears and is replaced with a more agile, real-time process. Program managers have good answers to predictable questions business users ask: “How do I get started?” “What data is available?” “Why is this important?”

The speed, power, and ease-of-use of modern analytics tools far exceed their predecessors, and business users can indeed summit the learning curve. It is now possible to on-board new users quickly and building a continuum of excitement.

Organizations that deploy programmatically are reaping the full benefits of self-service. For those who do it well, operational visibility is increasing at every level. Good information, based on timely, factual data, makes hard decisions easier. Transparency aligns people with the organization’s mission, and users feel more independent and in control of their work lives. They work more collaboratively with one another and feel connected to analysts around the world.

This kind of culture shift matters. Gallup finds that fewer than one-third of American workers are truly engaged in their work, and Blue Ocean Leadership identifies traditional reporting as part of the problem.  Self-reliant business intelligence is turning that model upside down. Even if there were no other benefit than reengaging the workforce, programmatic implementation of self-service business intelligence would be a no-brainer.

Organizations that lightly embrace the new visual analytics paradigm cannot expect miracles. New tools are providing organizations with opportunities to transform culture powerfully. Organizations seizing this moment are innovators – just like Julia Child, Emeril Legasse, Bobby Flay and Rachel Ray. They are the chefs in the data kitchen.

About the author: Anthony Krinsky is a senior sales consultant with the Tableau Channels organization. Based in Los Angeles, Mr. Krinsky spent nine years in similar roles at IBM, Cognos and SAP Business Objects, and eight years as a database application developer for Java, Cold Fusion, JavaScript, mapping, and .NET.

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Image courtesy of Paul Keller.