Even At Facebook, Business Intelligence Is Not Viral - InformationWeek

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1/26/2012
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Even At Facebook, Business Intelligence Is Not Viral

Rather than relying on social collaboration, Facebook had to bombard impatient employees with specialized training so they would recognize and use the business intelligence tools available in their internal, Microstrategy-based portal.

Facebook prides itself on being a data-driven company, but when Kathleen Pedersen, a business operations specialist for the company, traveled to a regional office in Dublin, Ireland, managers there complained of being starved for the information they needed to do their jobs.

"One manager told me, 'I desperately need that--I feel like I'm driving a speedboat in the dark,' " Pedersen recounted in a presentation at the Microstrategy World user conference this week. She soon learned that all the information these people needed was available in a business intelligence portal, known internally as Nexus, built on Microstrategy's tools. Yet people weren't aware of it or didn't know how to use it.

Although Pedersen had come to tell a success story about winning over those users, her tale proves that even one of the most celebrated technology companies in the world isn't immune to technology adoption challenges. At a time when social business and social software advocates are arguing that bringing a little "Facebook inside your company" will improve communication and collaboration, Pedersen's story shows that social collaboration is no cure-all. In theory, Facebook employees who discovered the value of Nexus might have spread the word through their internal social network resulting in 'viral' adoption of the BI tools. In practice, that didn't happen until after Facebook and consultants from Microstrategy instituted a relatively traditional training program.

[ Puzzling over the implications of Facebook Timeline? See Facebook Timeline: Will It Benefit Your Business? ]

This was a conference at which Microstrategy CEO Michael Saylor enthused about the potential of Facebook as the ultimate database of wealth and power and BI as a cloud service. The Facebook presentation was part of a track of sessions devoted to the intersection of BI and social media. Yet it was really much more of a story about enterprise technology adoption than it was about doing business with social tools. Of course, it was also an excuse for Microstrategy to brag about having Facebook as a customer.

Top 15 Facebook Apps For Business
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Slideshow: Top 15 Facebook Apps For Business

Facebook has its own sophisticated big-data analytics system based on Hive, an open-source technology Facebook invented that works with Apache Hadoop. Extracts from Hive needed for day-to-day business analytics are loaded into an Oracle database, along with business and financial data, and made available for reports and ad-hoc queries through Microstrategy.

Pedersen said she originally thought she would have to use some of the company's "more technical tools," but her superiors in California directed to tell the Dublin employees that all the information they needed was readily available in the Microstrategy system, Nexus.

"That's when they laughed at me. They said, 'We don't use Nexus--the data's not accurate,' " Pedersen said. When she investigated further, however, "I found the data was fine--it was perfect, in fact--they just didn't know how to use Nexus," she said.

Meanwhile, Microstrategy had assigned technical trainer Katarzyna Rezanko-Prajs to help Facebook drive broader adoption of its business intelligence tools. "I heard that the users had the most wonderful tools and Web apps in place, reports and dashboards in place, but they don't know how to use them," she said.

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