It’s always funny when culture leads to misinterpreting a joke. Whilst chatting with someone during the SharePoint conference earlier this year, they muttered how BSM was an apt acronym for Business Scorecard Manager 2005. I wondered what on earth business scorecards had to do with the British School of Motoring before it dawned on me that they were referring to a completely different use for the letters BS…

…and whilst they may have been poking fun at the product itself, the same cynicism could also be applied to business scorecards in general as they become easier to build and deploy…

Intelligence in its various forms (such as reports, portals, dashboards, and scorecards) has been on IT’s radar for quite some time now, but 2007 is likely to be the year it finally arrives as an everyday tool on the desktop. (I think it will be 2008+ before it is successfully adopted on mobile devices, given how long it is taking companies to provide even basic web sites in a format suitable for small screens and flaky network connections.) Gartner has highlighted collective intelligence within their top three emerging technologies for 2007. Microsoft is building up a complete stack of maturing business intelligence (BI) tools, having started with the launch of SQL Server 2005 back in November 2005 and now culminating in the launch of Office 2007, a revamped SharePoint Server 2007 containing all sorts of information management goodies, and a BI portal to rule them all: PerformancePoint Server 2007. And I suspect good ol’ Excel will trump the lot thanks to its popularity combined with new features that make data visualisations incredibly easy.

The technology to analyse and present information is improving, and there is no shortage of information waiting to be mined for ideas. During a Gartner conference I attended in 2005, I heard an interesting view point that sums up the ever increasing quantity of information available: “…combined with lowering storage costs, will we start to see ‘write once, read never’?” It’s a powerful thought.

But before we get all giddy and excited about analysing anything and everything, we need to consider what outcomes we desire. There is little point in staring at a dashboard or scorecard if the information served up does not help make better decisions and/or influence actions. And one of the easiest traps to fall into (and there are many) is presenting too much information. Presenting too much information creates two issues: the paradox of choice and diluted messages.

The paradox of choice is a relatively simple concept – when presented with too many options, we are more likely to choose nothing at all. Doh! Barry Schwartz has written a whole book about this concept (guess what the title is!). To find out more:

Diluted messages is a different issue with the same end result. When we see/hear the same information over and over again, no matter how strong the message (powerful, wonderful, shocking, horrific, intense desire… whatever), its effects become diluted – they weaken to the point where we just don’t notice or care any more. A simple example to demonstrate this challenge was provided by film director Steven Spielberg in an interview last year. He was discussing the challenges with filming Jaws and how, when the mechanical shark broke, he couldn’t delay filming so had to create clever camera shots and create an impression that the shark was there even though you couldn’t see it:

“If I had made Jaws today, it would have been a digital shark that never breaks. I would have have used it four times as much and the film would have been four times less scary…”

Take note! As business intelligence tools become pervasive throughout organisations, the need for good BI design will become increasingly important to ensure that the right information is served up in the right format when and where it is needed to make decisions and act on them.

I plan to write more on this subject throughout the winter and cover some of the other traps that can make intelligence worthless. But if you are interested the design side, without doubt the best place to start is a book called “Information Dashboard Design” by Stephen Few published earlier this year. And once you have read it, visit The Dashboard Spy blog for samples of good and bad designs.

Related blog posts:

Hmmm, I’m beginning to wonder if there is a connection between the month of October and my brain getting interested in intelligence…

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Don't forget the Barry Schwartz video on the Gel videos page.

  2. Forget BSM anyway, try http://www.prontopass.co.uk for driving schools in Ormskirk.

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