What Steve Jobs Can Teach Us About Business Intelligence

Ann All

It's safe to say Steve Jobs doesn't make decisions like the rest of us. In reading some of the tidbits about Apple's CEO included in Carmine Gallo's book "The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs," it's hard to imagine Apple's CEO using business intelligence, the process of collecting and mining data, to make decisions. Jobs takes his cues not from data but from experiences like studying calligraphy, visiting an ashram in India or staying at The Four Seasons hotels. It's hard to imagine Jobs changing his mind once it's made up, even when presented with numbers-filled reports that seem to contradict his decision.


Yet BI practitioners can learn an important lesson from Jobs, a variant on the old "keep it simple, stupid" saw.


Writing on his BI Questions blog, Timo Elliott dispenses five tips for ensuring BI success, all of which relate to the general theme of BI being more about people and processes than technology, a topic I visit regularly myself on this blog. In explaining his advice to provide some simple data access for everyone, Elliott mentions the iPod, an MP3 player that succeeded not because it was first, most advanced or even least expensive but because it was so darned easy to use.


Yet too many IT teams design BI implementations more like Microsoft than Apple, throwing in features left and right, many of which will be welcomed only by power users. They'd do better to to emulate Apple, which keeps the number of features in its products low. Writes Elliott:


I'm convinced that Apple employed somebody whose job it was to say "no": "Can we add some more buttons?" "No!" "Can we add search?" "No!" "Custom playlists?" "No!". Once the iPod was a success, more features were slowly added, and it's a formula that Apple has repeated with newer devices like the iPhone and iPad --launching with fewer features than the competitors and aiming for volume first, and then extending.


So, he suggests, roll out some analytic information that everybody in your organization can use and appreciate, such as travel and expenses, breakdown of mobile phone bills, budget spending, or time management. Make it "incredibly simple to use," just basic reports with no extra logon required. Not surprisingly, this will drive demand from users. Writes Elliott:


Once you've done this (and promoted it widely), you'll find that people soon come and ask for more information, other types of information and more features. People get used to having information, their expectations get higher, and you've started changing the information culture from the bottom up. Unlike rolling out BI to power users, widespread information to everyone sets up a long-term virtuous spiral of people accessing, using and demanding information.


With just about any kind of enterprise software, a pull model will be more effective than a push model. And as Elliott describes, simplicity is a great way to get users clamoring for more.Yet IT teams often find it tough to design simple systems. Many geeks value complexity and don't understand that most non-geeks do not. I wrote about this last December and referenced a Fast Company story which cited the example of Intuit's Simple Start software. After the first iterations of the product flunked usability tests, designers reduced the number of major tasks performed by the software from 20 to six and changed the wording of key terms so that "accounts receivable" became "Money In" and "accounts payable" was called "Money Out." The product went on to become a big success.


(Don't forget to click through and read Eillott's post for his four other tips, all of which are awesome.)

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 22, 2010 9:41 AM Shawn Dickerson Shawn Dickerson  says:

We've certainly seen this phenomenon in a number of our enterprise dashboard deployments. The most successful implementations with the highest ROI tend to be those where a handful of core performance indicators are exposed to a large number of users in a very simple way. Often, big productivity gains are made just because users are aware of their progress in key areas (like fuel efficiency or machine uptime), without actually refining any processes.

Shawn Dickerson


Oct 22, 2010 10:10 AM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to Shawn Dickerson

Thanks for the great example, Shawn. I love your point about how simple exposure to data can create business improvements.

Nov 16, 2010 12:28 PM William Hudsonnati William Hudsonnati  says:

If I've heard a performance improvement consultant say it once, I've heard it a hundred times.  Focus on one thing and make a difference.  Our attention span isn't good enough to pay attention to 100's of things.

Dec 2, 2010 10:01 AM testking 1z0-050 testking 1z0-050  says: in response to William Hudsonnati

Typically, Forrester uses the following broad definition: "Business Intelligence is a set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information used to enable more effective strategic, tactical, and operational insights and decision-making."When using this definition, business intelligence also includes technologies such as data integration, data quality, data warehousing, master data management, text and content analytics, and many others that the market sometimes lumps into the Information Management segment. Therefore, Forrester refers to data preparation and data usage as two separate, but closely linked segments of the business intelligence architectural stack.

Dec 2, 2010 10:06 AM mark taylor mark taylor  says: in response to William Hudsonnati

I think business users and their requirements impact nearly every decision made throughout the design and implementation of a DW/BI system. The business requirements sit at the center of the business core, and are related to all aspects of the daily business processes. They are therefore extremely critical to successful data warehousing. Business requirements analysis occurs at two distinct levels.

Mark Taylor

testking JK0-016 certified professional


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