Three Ideas That Could Bring Business Intelligence to the Masses: Page 4
BI Idea 3: Build Your Own Data Store
Back in the days before Microsoft Access, there was a funny little database company called FileMaker. It had the odd idea that people who wanted to create their own contact lists, their own lists of the stocks they owned and their values, their own grades or assets and expenses, should be able to do so in whatever format they wanted. As Oracle steadily cut away at other competitors in the top end of the database market, FileMaker kept gaining individual customers who would bring its application into their local offices and use it for little projects. To this day, it is still pretty much unique in its ability to let users quickly whip up small-sized, custom data stores to drive, for example, class registrations at a college.
To my mind, FileMaker never quite took the idea far enough. You see, FileMaker was competing against folks like Borland in the days when the cutting edge was allowing two-way links between, let's say, students and teachers (a student has multiple teachers, and teachers have multiple students). But what people really want, often, is "serial hierarchy." You start out with a list of all your teachers; the student is the top level, the teachers and class location/time/topic the next level. But you next want to see if there's an alternate class; now the topic is the top level, the time at the next level, the students (you, and if the class is full) at a third level. If the number of data items is too small to require aggregation, statistics, etc., you can eyeball the raw data to get your answers. And you don't need to learn a new application like Outlook, Microsoft Money or Excel for each new personal database need.
The reason this fits BI is that, often, the next step after getting your personal answers is to merge them with company data. You've figured out your budget, now do "What if?" scenarios: Does this fit with the company budget? You've identified your own sales targets, so how do these match up against those supplied by the company? You download company data into your own personal workspace and use your own simple analysis tools to see how your plans mesh with the company's. You only get as complex a user interface as you need.
Will Any of This Ever Happen?
I hope you enjoyed these ideas, because, dollars to doughnuts, they'll never happen. It's been 25 years, and the crippled desktop/folder metaphor and its slightly less crippled cousin, the document/link browser methodology, still dominate user interfaces. It's been fifteen years, and only now is Composite Software's Robert Eve getting marketing traction by pointing out that trying to put all of a company's information in a data warehouse is a fool's errand. It's been almost 35 years, and still no one seems to have noticed that seeing a full page of a document you are composing on a screen makes your writing better. At least, after 20 years, Google Gmail finally showed that it was a good idea to group a message and its replies. What a revelation!
No, what users should really be wary of are vendors who say they do indeed deliver any of the ideas listed above as actual, workable solutions. They don't; but saying they do is a bit like other vendors' claims that requirements management software is an agile development tool. No; it's a retrofitted, slightly less sclerotic tool instead of something designed from the ground up to serve the developer rather than the process.
But if you dig down deep, and the vendor really does walk the walk, grab the BI tool. And then let me know the millennium has finally arrived. Preferably not after another 26 years.