The human brain is not like a computer, writes Davide Hanan of QlikView South Africa. Computing is essentially linear: if this happens, then do that. If it isn’t a Yes, then it must be a No. The big picture is built by carefully assembling thousands of tiny components, each equally important.
Humans, by comparison, are all over the place. We live in a natural world that is full of shades of grey, half-truths and maybes. We scan and find patterns: we see the big picture first, and then zoom in on the details we find interesting.
Until very recently, the only way to solve the problem of getting humans and computers to work nicely together was to make the humans behave more like computers. We all learned that there were some things computers couldn’t understand, and couldn’t do – and we adjusted our expectations accordingly.
In business intelligence, that has meant we have all been slaves to the report. The business produces oceans of data, someone decides what facts we want to know from that data, elaborate data cubes are built, and the system spits out the reports.
The problem comes when you want to know something that isn’t on the report. How much did we sell on days when it rained? Which region did best in summer? Why is there a spike in returns in Gauteng but not in the Free State? What’s the average order size per province?
There were three standard responses to questions like this. One was get the IT people to draw a new report for you — which would take time, and money. The other was to try and do it yourself — more time, and more money. Or you just do without, and operate on your hunches.
Fortunately, that era is ending. Over the past two decades there have been massive increases in computer processing power and available memory. Newer software can take advantage of that, designing applications that mimic the associative tendencies of the human mind.
Contemporary BI technology uses in-memory processing so that users can follow their intuitions, navigating vast data sets as easily as they can surf the web. It’s so easy that most users get the hang of it within a few minutes – which is nothing less than what the Facebook generation demands.
The change has come none too soon. Traditional BI has been badly broken for years, with only 31% of implementations actually succeeding.
At the same time, the need for reliable, accessible information has never been greater. In a struggling economy, making good decisions can make all the difference – which means decision makers need to know exactly what’s going on.
The move towards newer BI technology is boosted by the fact that it offers such quick time to value, and much lower total costs. In the old days, BI systems took anything from five to 18 months to implement, cost millions of Rands to implement and maintain and only worked the way they were supposed to about a third of the time.
New BI takes around ten days to implement, costs a lot less and is successful about 99% of the time. In many cases the system is up and running before the client even sees the first invoice.
Software that works the way your mind works – by seeing patterns and making connections – is the way of the future. Anybody considering a new BI purchase now should ensure that it is:
* Simple to implement and configure;
* Easy, intuitive, job-enhancing and fun to use; and
* Going to offer rapid return on investment by deploying quickly and delivering results fast.
Today’s hardware and software is finally catching up with the capabilities of the human mind, so that it can work with us, not against us. Make sure your BI software is working for you.