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Three Ideas That Could Bring Business Intelligence to the Masses: Page 3

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Posted November 5, 2010 By Wayne Kernochan     Feedback
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BI Idea 2: The Do the Right Thing Key

Back in 1986, I loved the idea behind the Spike Lee movie so much that I designed an email system around it. Here's how it works:

You know how when you are doing a "replace all" in Word, you have to specify an exact character string, and then Word mindlessly replaces all occurrences, even if some should be capitalized and some not, or even if you just want whole words to be changed and not character strings within words? Well, think about it. If you type a whole word, 90 percent of the time you want only words to be replaced, and capitals to be added at the start of sentences. If you type a string that is only part of a word, 90 percent of the time you want all occurrences of that string replaced, and capitals when and only when that string occurs at the start of a sentence. So take that Word "replace" window, and add a Do the Right Thing key (really, a point and click option) at the end. If it's not right, the user can just Undo and take the long route.

The Do the Right Thing key is a macro; but it's a smart macro. You don't need to create it, and it makes some reasonable guesses about what you want to do, rather than you having to specify what it should do exactly. I found when I designed my email system, every menu, and every submenu or screen, would benefit from having a Do the Right Thing key. It's that powerful an idea.

How does that apply to BI? Suppose you are trying to track down a sudden drop in sales one week in North America. You could dive down, layer by layer, until you found that stores in Manitoba all saw a big drop that week. Or, you could press the Break in the Pattern key, which would round up all breaks in patterns of sales, and dig down not only to Manitoba but also to big offsetting changes in sales in Vancouver and Toronto, with appropriate highlighting. Nine times out of ten, that will be the right information, and the one other time, you'll find out some other information that may prove to be just as valuable. Now do the same type of thing for every querying or reporting screen.

The idea behind the Do the Right Thing key is actually very similar to that behind Google Exploratory Data Analysis. In both cases, you are really considering what the end user would probably want to do first, and only then finding a BI tool that will do that. The Do the Right Thing key is a bit more buttoned-up: you're probably carrying out a task that the business wants you to do. Still, it's way better than "do it this way or else."

 

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