For the majority of IT analysts, a business-critical spreadsheet is a blot on the face of a clean and beautiful IT strategy. How else can they demonstrate the advantages to their clients of coherent, integrated systems chosen via carefully researched reports? One person who stands out from this purist belief is Boris Evelson at Forrester who consistently rolls up his sleeves to look at the way the world really is. It was therefore interesting to read his recent Blog and BI Predictions for 2012.
A common theme throughout these predictions is the continuing cold war between what business users want to do with their data and what their IT departments will, or can, provide. In many ways the Business-IT relationship reminds me of the term that auditors coined after the collapse of Enron. Investors thought that the annual audit report gave them all the information required to ascertain the integrity of an organization. In reality they only audited what they were given...giving rise to the so-called 'expectation gap'. Similarly each separate business user thinks that IT is there to provide the information and applications they require to do (just) their job whereas IT can, at best, only hope to do this for common requirements within the organization.
Unfortunately, rather than acknowledging the existence of the business-IT expectation gap and how to tackle it, huge resources are deployed to convince everyone that the gap does not exist or that it is only a matter of time before the gap is closed.
A good example is the term BI/business intelligence itself. When a business user hears the term they assume that it will deliver the business intelligence that they wanted. To IT it is mostly about the plumbing of how to make data accessible to users in the first place, plus some standardized reports/views to sit on top. If you are a 'standard' user then this will be exactly what you want. Unfortunately (or fortunately) most professionals do not think or act in this way. We want our own slice and presentation of the data. Not surprisingly, we use the BI plumbing (built by IT) to collect the data and then use the 'export to Excel' button to apply our own business intelligence and (in Boris's words) 'get the job done'.
Even if Excel were eliminated we would seek a similar alternative. The problem is not the spreadsheet but our individuality. Much better that the term BI is kept for bulk, commoditised operations and another term is found for what users want to do for themselves ...UI (User Intelligence) might work but unfortunately UI has already been claimed elsewhere.