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Business intelligence in the new administration

Ramon Barquin explains why the Obama Administration will have to rely on tried-and-true business intelligence.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK

So we have a new president-elect. The electoral process of last November 4th yielded a clear result, and come January 20th, the young senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, will become the 45th president of our great nation. What does this mean, if anything, for those of us who work in the business intelligence (BI) space, specifically assisting the federal government? In other words, is there a future for business intelligence in the Obama administration?

To answer this question, we don’t have to look at the Democratic platform or go to the pundits or policy wonks inside the Beltway. All we really have to do is read the newspapers, watch the news or hear the call-in talk shows. In other words, track what the people want to know because it all really starts with pressure from the public.

And what is it that we all want to know? Of course, we’d like to know what the market is going to do tomorrow, and fixing the economy is going to be a key priority in an Obama administration, but in our day-to-day, here are the types of questions that pop up again and again and again:

  • What is the on-time arrival record of the airline I’m about to fly?

  • Can we eat the fish we just caught in the Potomac River?

  • Are there any child molesters living in my neighborhood?

  • What hospital should I choose for my son’s appendectomy?

  • How good is the elementary school my grandson is going to attend next year?

  • What is the real value of my house in this declining market?

  • What are the eligibility requirements for receiving unemployment in my state?

  • What are the tax implications of cashing in my 401k?

  • What is the crime rate in the area where I’m house hunting? 

  • Is it safe for my son to visit Haiti this summer?

  • How long will it take him to have a passport issued?

  • How will the Wall Street “Rescue Plan” impact the interest rate on my Visa card?

  • Is my out-of-work daughter eligible to receive food stamps?

  • Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

Some of these questions are easy to answer, and these days we massively resort to the Internet to search for responses. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for example, lets us see how hospitals compare in terms of the quality of care they provide; the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) features a site providing airlines on-time statistics; the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) has a “house price calculator”; and the Department of State issues “travel warnings” periodically on practically every country in the world.

Other questions, like gauging how the Wall Street “Rescue Plan” will impact my Visa card interest rates, are very tough.

But for a new administration, these questions are just the opening salvos in the much more important arena of public policy. We elect our presidents primarily because we believe they will be good at establishing policies that we agree with, policies that we believe in and are attuned to our values.

Our question related to airline on-time arrival will probably be part of a broader policy discussion on a passenger bill of rights; and the question about my grandson’s school may very well become part of the debate over what to do with the No Child Left Behind legislation. Ultimately, a new administration will have to tackle the major policy issues of our day.

Should we privatize Social Security? Do we legalize marijuana? How do we resolve the war in Iraq? Should we continue to subsidize tobacco farming? What do we do about Darfur? Does capital punishment reduce crime? Should we reverse Roe vs. Wade? How should we handle nuclear proliferation? What is the best way to assign donated human organs for transplants? Should we ban private ownership of automatic assault weapons? How should we handle immigration? What about school vouchers? And on, and on and on…

The way this plays out in our democracy is that different constituencies will have diverse opinions about each one of these issues, and they will present their cases publicly in the media and other forums. Eventually, government takes notice – especially a new administration – and initiatives are launched by either Congress (if a new law is needed) or the Executive branch (if a new program is necessary to enforce a statute or if an existing program has to be refurbished to improve its performance).

Throughout the process, data feeds the discussion on all sides and ultimately is central to determine the level of priorities and the required funding. Data must be provided to illustrate positions and secure budget share. And this leads us right back to business intelligence.

Business intelligence is the result of analysis done on data. It is the extraction of meaning from these bits and bytes. And BI is done primarily to help us make decisions.

The Obama Administration will surely have to rely on tried-and-true business intelligence to start peeling the onion on this broad range of issues. Not that there is much of a chance of solving them all in any one president’s term, but at least the analytic groundwork has to be started that will help us as a society make these decisions on an informed basis. There is no alternative to business intelligence.

Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

Dr. Barquin is a member of the E-Gov (Electronic Government) Advisory Board, and chair of its knowledge management conference series; member of the Digital Government Institute Advisory Board; and has been the Program Chair for E-Government and Knowledge Management programs at the Brookings Institution. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. Dr. Barquin can be reached at

Editor's note: More government articles, resources, news and events are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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