BI and the Tragedy of the Commons - InformationWeek

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9/12/2007
11:38 AM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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BI and the Tragedy of the Commons

Is your BI deployment departmental or enterprisewide? That alone is a strong indicator of how successful a deployment you will have. Given that about half of BI deployments are departmental, I can't help but think of the "Tragedy of the Commons," which involves a conflict over resources between individual interests and the common good.

Is your BI deployment departmental or enterprisewide? That alone is a strong indicator of how successful a deployment you will have. Given that about half of BI deployments are departmental, I can't help but think of the "Tragedy of the Commons," which involves a conflict over resources between individual interests and the common good.

This concept has been used to describe a number of social and economic problems in which an individual's gain comes at the expense of the group. Herdsmen, for example, who have to share pasture for sheep, will continue to add sheep to the property when the products from the sheep (wool or meat) exceed the cost in degrading the common pasture. Global warming problems have been explained by the tragedy of the commons in that individual countries and people don't inherently want to cut emissions or drive smaller cars, not wanting to trade national or personal sacrifices for the greater good of the world.The tragedy of the commons was first introduced to me in business school. In truth, I was a skeptic, thinking people, countries, businesses are not that self-interested. If the negative impact on the common good were better understood, we'd behave differently. Yet several professors did "tests" to illustrate how often the tragedy plays out. One professor would offer an individual an A or the group one less assignment if the group acted in unison. The individual's desire always won out. Another professor resorted to cold hard cash. Everyone contributed a couple of dollars that either a few individuals would win or we could all get back, if as a class we made decisions that benefited the entire class. A few made out like bandits, while the more naïve of us were left, mouths agape at how we had been fooled.

It seems to me that a similar tragedy exists with business intelligence. According to industry research, 42% of companies buy business intelligence tools at a departmental level. Funds for technology investments are limited and so are the resources and expertise to deploy them. It would make sense to build an enterprise solution once, rather than multiple islands of solutions that end up costing the company more. Yet when the department buying the BI tool derives all the benefit (whether in time to implement BI capabilities or software that meets a high portion of their requirements), their BI success is sometimes at the expense of other departments who would also benefit from business intelligence. Siloed solutions cost more and make it difficult, if not impossible, to share data across departments. The more important question, then, is not whether or not BI is deployed departmentally, but rather, why.

Sincerely,

Cindi Howson, Founder, BIScorecard, a Web site for in-depth BI product reviews, and author of Successful Business Intelligence: Secrets to Making BI a Killer App and Business Objects XI (R2): The Complete Reference.Is your BI deployment departmental or enterprisewide? That alone is a strong indicator of how successful a deployment you will have. Given that about half of BI deployments are departmental, I can't help but think of the "Tragedy of the Commons," which involves a conflict over resources between individual interests and the common good.

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