Lean integration principles and methodologies in the realm of business intelligence (BI) may sound new and exciting but they’re not. Lean everything is such a well known management practice that it barely demands a mention, writes Mervyn Mooi, director at Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID). 
What is worth mentioning, however, is that while lean is widely acknowledged as a preferable means of operations, it is seldom fully employed. The problem with lean is not that people don’t know about it nor understand it but that they don’t do it. The same problem persists in lean systems, process and data integration.
Many of the BI vendors are spouting lean integration these days. They take a tried and trusted tool, methodology or process, give it a fresh coat of paint, and trot it out like a boxer in a hooded gown as something new and exciting. It helps to push product and reinvigorate markets.
That doesn’t always get to the root of a business problem; however, in this case optimising integration or simply eliminating the waste from integration. In fact, the real problem businesses in South Africa face today is the discipline of employing lean integration. Organisations must have strong, committed, and resilient leadership, a lean principle by the way, at all levels if they want to achieve economy in all aspects.
It’s warfare out there as businesses try to strike the right balance between being conservative and prudent and progressive and pro-active. A huge concern is that standards and enterprise-wide rules that promote lean are tidied away into file 13.
Management by fact (MBF) is one of the methods being hawked as a brilliant approach for gaining agreement across business, divisional or functional silos. It’s a concise summary of quantified problem statement, performance history, prioritised root causes, and corresponding countermeasures.
It promotes data-driven, cross team problem solving. That means that it eliminates bias to help gain agreement, simply by using information over subjective reasoning. It’s also one of the pillars of lean manufacturing and now lean integration, which applies translated versions of the seven principles of lean manufacturing and Deming’s 14 points.
It’s a natural fit for the integration environment because of its three constituent processes:
* Clarify the problem using the Four Whats technique;
* Determine the root cause using the Five Whys technique; and
* Present the results in a concise, one-page summary.
But the ugly truth is that lean principles like MBF don’t guarantee that enterprise-level co-ordination and standards will be fully realised or that existing resources and intellectual property will be reused, because the implementation is left up to people.
What businesses need today are hard nuts. They need station masters. They need devil’s advocates. They need orchestrators, puppet masters, hard liners and people who don’t really consider other people’s feelings when it comes to the discipline of adhering to standards and applying lean management practices and rules.
Businesses need these dictators in their operations to ensure economy in resource deployment and usage, regardless of new or old technologies, legacy or modern systems, insisting at every step that lean be properly implemented.
New technologies have not always proved to be cost effective, cost efficient, nor to enhance the bottom line. In many instances new technologies have only exacerbated existing waste by introducing more silos of standards, techniques, infrastructure and related costs. In many cases, legacy systems already in place can be enhanced or evolved at less cost and still meet new requirements.
The lean dictators will find that the key to achieving a lean balance is found in being progressive and cost efficient versus being constraining and cost maintaining.