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Behavioural Intelligence – a truer form of BI

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Behavioural intelligenceOne of my colleagues, David Logan, recently published an article on Behavioural Intelligence on ITweb. It grabbed my attention and reminded me how often organisations forget that there are other and  more important  ways to look at BI than the traditional approach of defining, implementing and reporting on KPIs. We should contemplate how BI affects an organisation’s behaviour, or then, the behaviour of its decision makers and operational staff. One must always consider the implication of the information being asked for – and whether there isn’t a closely related question to be answered that yields a much better value proposition.

David’s article cites the example where the continuous rating of teachers and schools should lead to a general increase in the standard of education. However, the implementation of the rating system created a situation where the teachers inflated test results to increase the overall ratings of their schools. This highlights the difference between a basic report answering the question: “Have school ratings improved marks?” (“Yes”) and the much more relevant question: “Have school ratings improved the education system?” (“Probably not”, but we cannot necessarily be sure). The crucial point here is that the latter question is a much higher value BI question to ask than the former, and it encourages better behaviour.

There are many similar examples. The age-old measurement of calls completed in the call centre keeps the call centre agents occupied and busy, but does it necessarily lead to improved customer satisfaction? Likely not, as customers are probably rushed through their calls during peak times in order to process more calls. As a consequence, their requests or concerns may not be properly addressed.

As another example, if stock is not visible in the distribution centre immediately after delivery, it is because the distribution centre agents delay entering the stock arrivals, in order for the measured times in the distribution centre to look better on their performance reports.

These examples illustrate that focussing on inappropriately targeted KPIs can directly cause bad behaviour, where the nett effect is that people bypass, misuse or even counteract certain business processes so that their own KPIs appear better for other or related business processes. If BI is simply used as a reporting mechanism, it is so often misused, or it encourages bad behaviour.

True valuable BI, on the contrary, should encourage better behaviour. It should inform and educate businesses and their decision makers about motives and real value. When businesses review their strategic information requirements, and the implementations thereof, they should focus more on the “why” than the “what”. The focus should be on the message conveyed by the information and the behaviour it encourages, rather than on the appearances of the KPIs on reports and dashboards. Failing to do so may set the organisation up for some challenges or even to miss some opportunities.

BI should form part of the strategic overview of an organisation and should not only be viewed merely as a technology for reporting – it should be actively engaged to improve the behaviour of the organisation and its people. This message is very important as BI continues to evolve and make strides in the technology and business spheres. So a key part of BI business analysis and consulting is to watch out for the types of false friends illustrated above, and to educate the decision makers to consider the behavioural impact of what they are asking for. As a payback, this will also improve the overall perception of BI as a relevant technology.

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