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Gartner BI Summit 2008: Q&A With Howard Dresner

In a preview of his keynote presentation at this week's Gartner Business Intelligence Summit, former analyst Howard Dresner talks about his new book, the convergence of BI and process management, and what it takes to get to the next level of performance management.
Some of the mega vendors that acquired big BI vendors are talking about decision support — BI in the context of applications and business process.

Yes, that's wonderful marketing isn't it? Who wouldn't want that? But you're not going to see that any time soon. How do you integrate BI into processes in an intelligent way without hand crafting it? We could demo something and say "isn't that really cool?" But how do you generalize that facility? How do you make all processes smart and learning? I don't know the answer to that. You could hand craft anything you want, but to make it a general facility sounds like a lot of work to me.

Is it more realistic to expect BI embedded in applications rather than business processes?

Applications, yes, because then you can make it much more explicit... I think where we find "embedding" is in things like call center applications, where you have a user who is sitting there talking to a customer and, based on what's going on during that call, it makes different recommendations. In those sorts of applications there's a tremendous amount of intelligence being employed and it most certainly is embedded. But it's very specific to that function rather than a general facility.

What's your message about performance management in the future?

I think the "tomorrow" part is really about the cultural evolution of the organization. As I said earlier, it's about the transparency and accountability that you need. It's going to require a newer, fresher approach to how we do business. Technology is an easier decision and it's a decision you can control, but it's not going to fix a broken organization. That's about the organization and the people.

Are there any pragmatic steps you would recommend?

Yes, shoot the CEO [laughs]. Seriously, when I was at Gartner we talked about things like competency centers; that certainly helps. It also helps if you have a forward-thinking CFO who talks to the CEO. That's probably your best step forward — trying to take what has been successful in finance and expanding on that. People say, "well performance management is not just about finance." Well, jeez, everyone cares about what's going on in finance, right? So that's not a bad starting point. Start with finance and expand to sales operations. Why? Because sales ops people are finance people, too. That's how you start expanding your portfolio.

At the end of the day, we've got to do this stuff because we need the transparency and we need the accountability, even if that's uncomfortable. This is human psychology 101. The technology is relatively easy. If we can solve some of these human and organizational issues, the technology will get resolved.