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April 1, 2009

A future for BI? Signs point to yes.

It's a year now since Dr Jerry Lundegaard of the University of Eastern North Dakota at Fargo published his groundbreaking book "Behind the 8-Ball: Making Decisions in the New Economy." Like previous works setting out new approaches to business, Lundegaard shook up boardrooms with his insightful understanding of how business decisions are made. However, Lundegaard's radical idea was to avoid data-centric, cumbersome approaches such as the Data Warehouse, the Corporate Information Factory, or the Balanced Scorecard. Instead, Lundegaard realized that most decisions are made in spite of the data, not because of it. So he recommended throwing out the stale paradigms and replacing them with (and here's the clever part) the Magic 8-Ball.

At first, Lundegaard's radical vision was only slowly accepted, but his breakthrough moment came when he was the highlight of the Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters: One Version of the Truth." From that point on, software vendors flocked to support the 8-Ball methodology, including the five traditional Business Intelligence megavendors. We interviewed each of these software giants about their 8-ball tools and methodologies.

SAS spokesman Naeve Bayes is enthusiastic about the advanced 8-ball technology they have brought to market. "It's mathematically more spherical than the regular 8-ball. Business users no longer rely on obscure guess work. They can have more confidence in: (X-Xo)^2 (Y-Yo)^2 (Z-Zo)^2 = R^2. This is not just a Magic 8-Ball, it's an Enterprise Center of Eightness."

If a customer asks the wrong question? Bayes understands the problem well, "You'll get a mathematically more spherical misdirection. It's very powerful." She goes on to describe how financial services customers who had established a Center of Eightness not only failed more completely, they failed more quickly than those using traditional technologies. "This shows that not only is the 8-ball methodology more predictive, it is more efficient too," said Bayes. "Some 8-ball customers were way ahead of the downward curve - that's the kind of advantage you need in today's fast changing environment."

Nevertheless, when it comes to business decisions, many people still believe you cannot get fired for buying IBM. What approach should we expect from that most venerable of vendors?

"It's really a services play for us," said IBM's field manager Bill Ablours. "And most importantly, we are the only vendor who can provide the complete hardware, software and services 8-Ball solution." Challenged that even IBM's services may be overstretched to meet growing business demands, Ablours responds "Absolutely not. We have a huge global services division. In any major city of the world, you're never more than 5 minutes away from an IBM consultant talking Balls." It's a convincing claim.

At Redwood Shores they have adopted a different strategy again. A spokesperson was not available, but in a statement, Oracle announced: "Over the years Oracle has acquired a lot of balls. In fact, all Oracle 8-ball solutions come with a Teach Yourself Juggling DVD, to help you keep all these balls in the air." Some CTOs have been concerned at the implications if their IT department should drop one of these many juggling 8-balls. Oracle does not address the problem directly in the press release, but a spokesman acknowledged privately that "The balls are 'unbreakable.' But when they do break, this may be a problem for the customer, but not for us, so long as the ball was fully licensed." And if the customer wants support for the broken ball? "Of course, that's fine. Although, naturally, they do have to pay retrospectively for every time they didn't drop the ball."

Not to be left out, SAP spokeswoman Kitty Herrballs was keen to describe their solution for those seeking 8-Ball insight. "Last Summer we released our natural language 8-ball application. You can simply ask the 8-ball a natural question such as 'Will my KNA1's VBUPs my MARD change?' And we'll return the answer instantly from memory." Faced with skeptical questions that this format actually appears rather un-natural, Miss Herballs noted that "It's quite easy, if you remember to put the verb at the end."

Many customers wonder if this technology will be integrated into the popular Business Objects stack. "Eventually," says Herballs, "But BO have only just heard about it." Pressed on how this could be, given that the SAP 8-ball technology was released last Summer, and Business Objects is now a wholly-owned SAP subsidiary, Miss Herrballs pointed out that "BO are still, in essence, a French company. They were on vacation last Summer, and are only just catching up on email."

Finally, what of Microsoft, the last of the megavendors to come to market with an 8-ball application? Director of Marketing for the recently re-organized Business Services Solution Services Business at Redmond, Skihni Lahti, described their approach as "partner friendly." Says Lahti "We're delivering the 8-ball functionality in the Excel box for our customers' convenience." Industry watchers have been critical of this approach, pointing out that "functionality in the Excel box" means a Microsoft customer can expect 50 blank index cards tucked into the packaging on which to write questions, and a link to an Excel macro that performs a lookup to a table containing 8-ball answers. Lahti is quick to point out the flexibility of this method, and defends it vigorously. "It's really an 8-ball platform. There is a strong ecosystem of partners supplying questions and answers for all your needs. And for our developer community, we include a Sharpie." We asked for customer evidence that the Microsoft approach is effective. "We have only a few external references just now, but we do use the technology extensively within Microsoft." An example? Look no further than the ongoing question "Should Microsoft buy Yahoo?" The answer "Reply hazy, try again," is right out of Lundegaard's Chapter 3 "The ambiguous answers: try another shake."

That concludes our roundup of the megavendors, and their approaches to Lundegaard's dramatically successful 8-ball methodology. Enjoy the rest of April, and do keep an eye out for Lundegaard's new book, due in booksellers later this month. Co-authored with Davenport, Gladwell and Kaplan, it is provisionally titled "Those Companies We Said Were Awesome? Not So Much."

Posted by Donald Farmer at April 1, 2009 8:30 AM


Donald awesome post I laughed out loud for sure.

Posted by: Shawn Rogers at April 1, 2009 10:14 AM

This was lol funny. Nice work. Captured nuances were right on, but I like the names best.

Posted by: Merv Adrian at April 1, 2009 11:22 AM

Great post. Very clever. Could also be used to get non-BI embracers to look in the mirror...

Posted by: Tracy Austin at April 1, 2009 3:55 PM

The enterprise center of eightness! Of course. It's perfect.

Posted by: Alison at April 2, 2009 11:13 AM

An excellent discussion of the Lundegaardian paradigm.

Posted by: Steve Polilli at April 2, 2009 11:41 AM

Seriously funny, and very well written! Thanks for the laughs. :)

Posted by: Michelle Ufford at April 3, 2009 6:00 AM

Great post! Maybe you could get Dr. Lundegaard to give the keynote at the next BI summit.

Posted by: Tom Unger at April 12, 2009 2:23 PM

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