Intuition through Business Intelligence

Dashboards: Business intelligence tools, Business intuition enablers, or both?

The role of intuition in the business place has certainly grown in the “softer”, more people-focused areas of the enterprise. Note the number of books available on topics such as emotional quotients, consumer desire and team building. Decisions are made based not only on the cold hard facts (i.e. “the numbers”) but by more nebulous decision criteria. Can the same be said, however, for the more analytical parts of the business enterprise? Is there room for intuition when it comes to business intelligence?

Are numbers and metrics cut and dried? Certainly the gathering and crunching of the data should be held to a quantitative approach that is both rigorous and free of bias. The graphical display of the data, likewise, should be accomplished in a consise, accurate manner free of misleading suggestion. Information visualization experts such as Stephen Few (see his excellent book Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data and the upcoming Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis) constantly preach the importance of correct information graphic design.

In discussions with some Dashboard Spy readers, I’ve looked at both sides of this issue. I’ll share with you some of this very interesting discussion.

From a Dashboard Spy at Actuate, we get this contribution of how to make sure that you don’t confuse business intelligence with off-the-cuff intuition:

Business Intelligence Versus Intuition

Almost any good business-person will tell you that predictions based on detailed information are typically more reliable than predictions based on feelings or intuition. The saying “knowledge is power” operates on the premise that if you know more than your competitors do, you can make powerful decisions for your company. Nowadays, businesses are turning to business intelligence (BI) to help them guide their decision-making processes. BI can be a powerful tool, but it is only as strong as the data that the system analyzes. When poor or irrelevant data goes in, poor and irrelevant business intelligence is reported. Often, companies don’t know how to use their business intelligence systems correctly and end up relying on their gut feelings instead of their BI reports. The good news is that you can learn how to leverage your data to get the best possible business intelligence for your company.

One of the first and most important things that companies neglect to do is define their objectives. What do you want to get out of your business intelligence system? What are the factors that drive your business? What type of business decisions do you commonly face? By determining what type of information you’ll need from your system, you can work backwards to decide what data is important for your company, what is useful to have for future reference, and what can be discarded. You can apply this method to sales data, customer information, and other important information that your company has collected.

Once you have determined what data should go into the system, a process needs to be put in place to maintain the cleanliness and usability of the data. Designations must remain consistent in order for your business intelligence system to produce usable BI. For example, if one department inputs “Male” and another “M” under the same heading, reports crafted to include the information for customers under the “Male” designation will ignore the equally valuable information about customers under the “M” designation. By maintaining consistency across the board, your company will be able to get the information you need, when you need it.

Once you know what you’re looking for and have good data going into your business intelligence system, you can step back and let your system do what it was designed to do. You’ll find that your key decision makers will have to rely less and less on their instincts as they continue to get useful information from their business intelligence reports. By taking just a few steps, you can improve the way your company uses your BI investment.

Take a look at this sales dashboard for an online book seller. It is created using Actuate. You can learn more about Actuate dashboards here.

actuate dashboard

Yes, I agree that the quality of the data and the goals of your analysis are critical to getting actionable, accurate information from your BI system. I would take a slightly different angle about the Business Intelligence versus Intuition subject and frame it as “Business Intelligence Powers Intuition”.

The following book was brought to my attention regarding Business Intelligence and Intuition:

Climbing the Ladder of Business Intelligence: Happy About Creating Excellence through Enabled Intuition

One of the authors, James E. Cates, has a presentation titled Ladder of Business Intelligence (LOBI) with an brief introduction of the framework offered in the book.

Here are some interesting images from the presentation.

As you will see the 10 levels on the Ladder of Business Intelligence are:

  1. Facts
  2. Data
  3. Information
  4. Knowledge
  5. Understanding
  6. Enabled Intuition


Ladder of Business Intelligence - BI Framework

Steps toward Enabled Intuition

Dashboards enable Intuition

A definite take-away would be that business intelligence dashboards are tools that we deploy to enable corporations to achieve the ultimate goal of enlightened intuition. This end state allows solid data and valid interpretation to power business intuition.

Do you think Business Intelligence leads to Business Intuition?

Tags: Actuate Dashboards, Business Intelligence Dashboards

2 thoughts on “Intuition through Business Intelligence

  1. OK. If I understand this correctly, Actuate believe that if you are well informed (through mastering your information) then you are better placed to make good business decisions.

    So far, so good (albeit a little wordy).

    Unfortunately, their showcase dashboard demonstrates why somebody who wants to be well informed through the medium of good BI shouldn’t choose Actuate.

    The benefit of seeing a chart rather than numbers is that the visual element allows you to see what is happening at a glance. As such, it is important that the charts are not misleading. In Actuate’s defence, they do also include the numbers, but frankly if the only way you can understand the data is by looking at the numbers, you should only show the numbers and minimise the chance of misleading anybody.

    Having made such a tough comment, I need to be specific.

    The dashboard is divided into four sections. We’ll deal with these one at a time.

    Top Left.
    If you look at the numbers, you will get the right idea – that the best figure is 16k and the worst 10k.

    Yet, if you look at the “bars”, an entirely different story is told. Yes, they have put values on the axis so you can kind of work out that it isn’t starting from zero, but you do have to puzzle it out and it visually distorts the true picture.

    Added to that, the vertical axis is “3d” which makes it hard to know for sure where the bar actually starts, and that the bars are cones, again giving a visual lie factor.

    A simple list, (name & amount) would be clearer.

    The top right widget is a bit less flash, but this one has two split axes – the vertical volume one starts from 21,000 “somethings” and the horizontal from 5pm to 8pm – are the servers only turned on for 3 hours a day? You’re also left to puzzle out what the line that isn’t blue is. My guess is that it’s capacity, but then why wouldn’t that be a fixed value?

    The bottom left section is alright.

    The bottom right section is possibly the worst pie chart I’ve ever seen. Ignoring the question of whether a pie chart is a good use of space, the sin here is the boundaries between the slices, making it unclear where one slice starts and another finishes. Again, thankfully they’ve included the values, without which this chart would tell you little of use.

    I don’t want this to be about a battle between clarity and prettiness – personally I think that you can have both, and a great example of this is in the BI Offering from Tableau software.

    Whilst facilitating great, clear datavism they have also managed to make their output quite beautiful.

    This link: shows what their users have achieved with the software (I don’t work for them and don’t own the software, so have no hidden motive for pushing it).


  2. This is one good example for an old saying:

    “In theory the gap between theory and practice is much less that it is in practice”

    How many software vendors “preach” and pay homage to Tufte / Few / Robbins and Cleveland? Too many… yet most of them allow them to approach visualization from a “data/chart” point of view and make the mistakes their Gurus have pointed out already.

    I think Actuate’s dashboard falls into this group.



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