2 (or 200) Heads Are Better Than One: BI Collaboration

Suggestive and collaborativeWhen I see my teenagers at home with headphones on their ears and their eyes glued to a screen, I see them as disconnected from the family. I think I’m probably right about that. Ironically, however, although they might seem disconnected from the world, they are more connected than I have ever been.

They are simultaneously IM-ing and video-Skyping with friends and collaborating with co-players in online games. They might be contributing to 5 or more different threads with dozens of people at a time. They know some of those connections personally and some they have never met. But they are all working toward solving problems and puzzles and other such goals.

If your business does not yet have that level of collaboration, get ready. My teenagers are tomorrow’s knowledge workers (okay, maybe not my teenagers – they are going to be professional gamers and rock stars – what do I know?). You can be sure that your competitors have already started to interweave resources and experts into networks that know how to pull insights from raw data and act on it in ways that can propel their organizations forward. So what do they have that you don’t? (Or do you?)

Enterprises that get the most out their business intelligence systems use collaboration tools that are like social crowdsourcing and networking rolled into one. There’s nothing wrong with working alone. But if the latest generation of social networking tools have shown anything, it’s that two (or two hundred) heads are better than one.

If you are not collaborating with other BI analysts, the insights could be sitting in the system but you might not be seeing them. Someone in the organization might have even discovered a clue that could lead you toward a solution or even the solution itself but you might never take advantage of that solution because you might have no reason to communicate with that person. If, on the other hand, your BI solution tracks the work of people in the organization, it can suggest that you collaborate who those who are most likely to have answers to your questions.

Once you know who might have the information or insights that you need, you can share a report or even drill down and share a single data point with them and collaborate on analysis to help speed the process of uncovering relevant insights. And you should not be limited to historical data. When you collaborate with other analysts, data is flowing in real time. Your BI system should be able to let you share live data streams, as well, so that your insights are up to date and relevant.

One you’ve collaborated with other users who have helped you, you should be able to follow their analyses when they work with information that is of interest to you. Again, your BI system should make this possible as well as let you comment on their work (and let them comment on your work), saving those comments for a time where another expert opinion could come in handy.

Case in point: There was a major healthcare manufacturer who believed that their operations were functioning smoothly. The company was profitable and customers were satisfied. The company had several plants which, for the most part, operated independently but according to a company-wide set of parameters. When they started using collaborative BI, people with similar job functions in the various plants suddenly had access to their counterparts’ data analysis work. In one instance, the company was able to significantly improve operational efficiencies by analyzing shipping routes to and from the various plants. They started to find redundancies and overlaps in the data. So, by working together, the whole company saved time, fuel, truck maintenance and other related costs.

I don’t know if my kids are solving those kinds of problems with their friends. But I do know that they are learning how to work with people they have never met; People who have pieces and solutions for their puzzles. And they are learning to share. As the house ‘administrator’, I (okay, my wife) set the rules for overall operation. But once they are working by the rules, they are free to collaborate. So, at least I get some comfort in knowing that they will have the skills to succeed in collaborative work environments.

Find out more about how business intelligence can be collaborative at Panorama.com.

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