Back in May, we blogged about a New York Times article that highlighted interesting real-world applications of business intelligence like a Virginia police department's analysis of crime reports that helped cut the city's crime rate.
By combining that analysis with other data such as weather patterns and sporting event schedules, the police were able to boost staffing levels for times and locations that saw predictable rises in crime -- in Hispanic neighborhoods on pay day, for example, where thieves were targeting residents as they left check-cashing outlets.
The article's overall theme seemed to be that BI was good for purposes other than trying to sell people more stuff.
Now, however, we have an econometrician (someone who uses statistical and mathematical techniques to solve problems and to test and demonstrate theories -- and yes, we had to look it up) and Yale law professor who puts a negative spin on the increasingly common practice of applying BI to all kinds of data.
Ian Ayres believes that in the near future few if any tasks will be based on independent judgment or intuition. In a Newsweek article about his new book "Super Crunchers" (which is what Ayres calls companies that control and manipulate data), he says this reliance on data won't necessarily benefit customers.
Instead, Ayres says, auto dealers (and other businesses as well) could calculate exactly how far they could push customers on prices, loan rates and other fees. Airlines (or other businesses) might opt to treat customers that data shows are more likely to jump ship better than their most loyal customers.
Interviews like this one make data mining sound borderline scary in a "1984"-like way. While we can't always rely on companies to use their increasingly sophisticated BI capabilities for good rather than evil, we also think there will always be a place for intuition.
Intuition has arguably driven some pretty monumental business decisions. We're betting that "Super Crunchers" wouldn't necessarily back the idea of developing a portable device to download music, for example.