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Adding Silver to Gold

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Science and business intelligence share a very similar drive to gain more knowledge and understanding. Where science seeks to understand what is happening in the universe through equations and building upon or replacing theories, business intelligence uses data modeling and visualizations to understand what is happening in the universe of a particular company.  Both fields have to deal with the dynamics of knowledge expansion and the natural inertia that comes from a new paradigm shift or adopting a new tool.  On one side, you have people who are reluctant to adopt the methodology or theory; on the other, you have people who are completely immersed in the new way of doing things. One way that science connects these two groups is by requiring that any new theory must not only be able to accurately predict new phenomena, but must also replicate all the successes of the old theory.

For example, Newtonian Mechanics describes the simple motion of objects, such as a pendulum or spring, but failed to accurately predict other more complex types of motion like Mercury’s orbit around the Sun. Fortunately, the Theory of General Relativity is able to correctly predict the motion of Mercury’s orbit, but the theory’s real value does not come from just being able to make the new, more accurate prediction.  The value comes from making the new prediction combined with being able to replicate all the good predictions of Newtonian Mechanics because it can be shown to be a special case within the framework of General Relativity. It makes sense that we would want a new theory to do this because we would probably dismiss any theory that predicts rocks flying upward when we let go of them or a sky that is maroon in color even if the theory is very accurate in predicting the phases of the moon. The new theory will usually change the explanation of why something happened, but it had better not contradict results that we know to be true from the old theory.

In the world of business intelligence, a company has methods for producing the metrics and visualizations that drive its decision-making process. The actual metrics and visualizations have been refined by working within certain constraints such as current tools or data modeling. Their value derives from the fact they have worked for so many years like the old scientific theories. A proposed business intelligence solution is like a new proposed scientific theory in that we are expanding the available knowledge that a company can have to make its decisions or shifting the paradigm in how that data is analyzed. Therefore, it would behoove us to demonstrate the expansion by not only focusing on the neat and new whiz-bang things we can do, but also how the new solution can replicate the old ways of doing things. Then, we can show how the new BI solution goes beyond the old way of doing things.

An example would be showing how a data visualization tool can reproduce the graphs, charts, and calculations of a complicated excel spreadsheet and then showing how the tool improves upon the old method with interactive dashboards or the ability to easily slice and dice data into new visualizations beyond what the excel spreadsheet could do.  In business intelligence, we need to show that our BI solution not only provides new opportunities compared to the old system but also shares the successes of the old system.

The lesson that we can take away from all this is that an easy way to demonstrate the added value of BI solution is to show that the old method of doing things can still be accomplished with the new tools and techniques. Then, we can show the added value of new tools and techniques. We are bringing new tools and methods that are going to help improve a business, and it’s easy (and fun!) to dive right into the deep end by focusing on all the new stuff that a company can suddenly do if they adopt your proposed solution.   However, we are running up against methods that have been successful for years and we need to take just a moment to show that we can still capture the same value from the old way of doing things. Just remember:

Make new friends,

But keep the old.

One is silver,

The other is gold.

Billy Decker

Billy Decker_border2Billy Decker is a consultant at StatSlice Systems. He graduated with a dual degree in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin and received his Masters Degree in Physics from the University of Texas at Arlington. He previously worked for Global Technical Services as a Senior Training Analyst and  Bell Hellicopter as an Instructional Designer. His technical experience includes, but is not limited to, SQL, SAP, Business Objects, QlikView, and Sharepoint.

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