Project Botticelli

PI: Performance Intelligence

30 December 2011 · 2 comments · 5442 views

Is BI the correct name?

What is the purpose of Business Intelligence? Why do you need it and why does your boss want it? I usually ask these questions at the very beginning of my BI seminars and talks, which I have now presented to some 8,000 attendees over the last two years. The most frequent answers include: gaining knowledge, enabling decision making, increasing profits, or reducing risks. If, however, I probe deeper, for example by asking “what is the goal of increasing knowledge”, or “what kind of decisions will you enable” my attendees almost always zoom onto the key function of BI: improving organisational performance. 

Whilst BI has many uses and purposes, which even include entertainment by means of animated graphs and visually rich charts that help popularise a subject that might have been a bit dry and otherwise hard to understand, I think BI has one particularly important, overarching function to fulfil amongst enterprises of all sizes. BI is supposed to help organisations perform better. For example, this can be achieved by gathering and acting on company’s own intelligence to help spot inefficiencies, problems, or missed opportunities. Typically, through a process of classifying operational data and aggregating it for later analytics one builds operational Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which, some day, lead to a balanced scorecard that orients that organisation’s strategy with its more tactical goals. This is just a simple example how BI can help an organisation perform better.

Unfortunately, I have a problem with the very name of BI. The issue I have is with the word business. It implies, quite incorrectly, that BI is only useful in a business user’s context. I expect that that is where it has been used the most, but I have certainly seen BI technologies used elsewhere, for instance in healthcare—and not in a monetary context, but one that deals with patient case progress, infection risk, and satisfaction from the services received. I have seen BI in government, education, charity, and even in military uses. In all cases, BI seems to help such organisations perform better: help patients more effectively, govern more fairly, increase student’s scores.

Let’s consider the wording Business Intelligence in a government context. In my experience, that does not even sound attractive to some potential users and governmental project sponsors, where the mere mention of business-like thinking might be counterproductive to getting a project started. On the other side, Governmental Intelligence might be a confusing term, too.

Interestingly, in an exercise which I have done a few times with a group of BI professionals, whenever we try to define the nature of our work, or perhaps the goals of what we do across those non-business-like domains, the word performance gets mentioned more often than any other concept.

Perhaps it is no surprise to you that I would like to suggest the term Performance Intelligence as the one that better explains goals of organisational Business Intelligence, at least in the context of the work we seem to do most often. I like the idea of focusing on the goals (performance) more than on the domain (business) of the technologies we use. I think this could help promote BI projects and explain their purpose to stakeholders in a more effective way.

Of course, I realise that I am unlikely to change the world and get everyone to suddenly refer to BI as PI. But it would be nice—just think how much cleverer PI sounds in comparison to BI, especially when it is pronounced as “Pi” (as in an apple pie, or perhaps as π, 3.14159…)