Message, Not Messenger - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

Message, Not Messenger

Like a good lead-off hitter, presentation says a lot about the character of the whole organization.

It could be one number, one telling comparison, or one pattern that says it all. Whether it's a president, a CEO, a marketing VP, or a specialist charged with detecting behavior that might presage a terrorist act, they must accept the information and make a decision. Consequences will follow.

Business intelligence and data warehousing professionals — not to mention the vendors that serve them — have made tremendous gains in establishing a system for data access, query, and delivery based on an integrated data store. All fascinating stuff that continues to evolve as new technology options unfold: but the ultimate consumers of what this information factory produces largely don't care. They have other things on their minds: how to improve operational performance, where to invest in building higher value customer relationships, or who out there has some hidden agenda to defraud or inflict great harm.

Stephen Few's cover story in this issue, "Information Cannot Speak for Itself" focuses on BI's "last mile": the presentation of data to users. Nothing could be more important in terms delivering return on the investment organizations have made in the entire technology stack standing behind the presentation. Even more, Few's article focuses our industry's attention on what's most important as we move ahead.

Information Matters

Software "usability" achievements have, for the most part, focused on delivering self-service. BI tool enhancements flow in this direction, with little thought about the nature of the information moving through the software. Few's article delivers a wake-up call to information professionals that it's time to start caring. Fancy graphics, multimedia, and other innovations brought over from the worlds of video games and consumer electronics will soon find their way into business information delivery. For younger generations, tables and graphs could well give way to roaring beasts and humanoid servants. Data coming from new sources, such as retinal scans and other biometrics will demand analysis. It's going to be a jungle out there.

In other words, information professionals must step up and be their users' guardians — a job that doesn't stop with the mere delivery of a self-service dashboard interface. We're moving beyond when just the technical ability to put data on a screen in a fancy manner is impressive. IT needs to think about the role that information will have in attaining business advantage, or whatever the objective may be.

Much as we try, information will always be inadequate, as we've learned from the recent Congressional report on intelligence leading up to Sept. 11, 2001. Jesus Mena's "Homeland Security as Catalyst: New Technology for Intelligent Analysis" describes some of the latest in knowledge discovery developed largely to improve such intelligence. As Mena discusses, much of this technology is applicable to business scenarios and will no doubt garner interest for customer behavior analysis, fraud detection, risk management, and other business challenges.

But the key issue remains: Data presentation mustn't make matters worse by confusing the message further. Ultimately, information consumers will make decisions, whether or not the information is correct — or presented correctly.

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