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Benefits of business intelligence (BI) come from synthesizing problems

Too often, BI pros analyze problems facing their organizations when they should be synthesizing them to achieve agile solutions, according to a speaker at TDWI's conference.

LAS VEGAS -- Attendees at the TDWI World Conference expected to receive significant hands-on business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing training.

What they might not have expected was a challenge to the way they think about the very fundamental process of decision making. But that's what they got.

"Traditional strategy management creates dilemmas," Frank Buytendijk, Oracle vice president and fellow of enterprise performance management, told attendees at his keynote address at Caesar's Palace here Monday morning.

BI and data warehousing professionals are trained to attack dilemmas with analysis, said Buytendijk, who previously served as an industry analyst with Gartner. What they should be doing, however, is synthesis.

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Analysis, by definition, means disassembling a problem to its core parts to understand root causes. But analysis often only confirms what people already know, Buytendijk said. And it can go on and on with no resolution.

Synthesis, by comparison, looks at what two opposing solutions to a particular dilemma have in common in an attempt to find a way forward that incorporates both, he explained.

A bank looking to boost profits, for example, may consider consolidating its call centers, changing its investment policies, launching a major marketing campaign, or entering new markets.

The best course of action would be to do a little of each, Buytendijk said. Instead of closing some call centers, perhaps just downsize some. Then tweak investment policies and begin targeted marketing campaigns aimed at specific customers. The resulting profits can then be used to start to tap new markets.

Too often, organizations make sweeping strategic decisions and then adjust their metrics and BI tools to measure the results, he said. Instead, they should take input from multiple sources, find common ground, and prepare to change as conditions evolve.

In other words, leave yourself -- and your BI deployment -- options to build organizational agility. "Don't stick to the plan. Stick to reality," Buytendijk said.

TDWI World conference attendee Glen Bell, director of Visual Explanations, an IT consulting firm in Sydney, Australia, found Buytendijk's address "entertaining and insightful." Bell is currently consulting with an Australian insurance firm that is considering deploying a data warehouse.

"I think his point was an interesting one: that formal analysis technology is not appropriate in all occasions," Bell said.

On the other hand, Daniel Miller thought Buytendijk's approach to decision making could stretch organizations too thin and cause them to lose focus. Miller works for McLean, Va.-based Booz Allen Hamilton, where he serves as a liaison between the business and IT on BI and data warehousing projects.

"I don't know how practical [Buytendijk's approach] is in most occasions," Miller said.

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