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

Actuate I-Server Enterprise Reporting Dashboards

Dashboard Reporting Topic: Actuate Dashboards and Dashboard Reports

In the last couple of posts on The Dashboard Spy, we’ve been examining random enterprise dashboard screenshots of reporting portals and enterprise dashboards. For a look at the highlights and detailed results please check the post on the enterprise dashboard vendor ratings. Moving on to another vendor covered by Meta Group in their rating of vendors for Enterprise Reporting and Enterprise Dashboards, we look at Actuate.

Actuate and Business Objects tied for second place with a rating of 5.4 which was just a bit behind the leading vendor, Information Builders with their WebFOCUS dashboard product at 5.6. Info Builders and Actuate, by the way, led with the largest number of enterprise reporting deployments in the field.

As the Meta Group rating stated:

Actuate I-Server 8.0 and e.Spreadsheet

Actuate I-Server 8 and e.Spreadsheet server are a powerful combination for addressing enterprise reporting
and dashboard requirements. A mature product, Actuate has numerous customers with deployments of more
than 50,000 users. Actuate is only one of two vendors to score above average or best in class in all evaluation categories. Actuate finishes tied for second in the overall vendor, ranking within one-fifth of a point of the leader.


• Strong Excel integration support meeting all five criteria; upcoming matrix capabilities will add a third
dimension to data in an Excel environment
• Best in class in distribution, scalability and performance, parameter processing, and usability
• Above-average scores in presence, connectivity, development, administration, and pricing
• Strong EII capabilities for real-time reporting needs


• Real data not represented in WYSIWYG report formatting interface
• No check in/check out or versioning support for multiple developers
• Difficult to get concessions in pricing; tendency to sell add-on products (e.g. e.Spreadsheet) instead of
bundling in the suite

Here are some enterprise dashboards done using the I-Server product. A random selection is shown.

Actuate report list page

Actuate dashboard

Actuate reporting

List of reports available on portal

Actuate Enterprise Dashboard

Dashboard Portlet

Actuate Dashboard Portlet

Enterprise dashboard dials

Dashboard KPI

By the way, since the Meta Group study was done, Actuate purchased into the performance dashboard space. From an article on this:

Actuate Buys Into Performance Management

By Stephen Swoyer

The business intelligence (BI) marketscape is changing. Drastically. Best of breed is on the way out, even as all-in-one-ed-ness is coming on strong. Over time, most organizations will replace non-integrated best-of-breed tools with highly integrated good-enough offerings. It’s unclear just what this will mean for BI pure-plays who’ve staked their market aspirations on one or two best of breed offerings. But it can’t be an encouraging trend.

BI reporting specialist Actuate Corp., for its part, doesn’t appear to be taking any chances: Actuate has significantly expanded its financial performance management (FPM) practice over the last 12 months, shipping two iterations of its Actuate FPM product (now in version 2.0) and aggressively courting financial services firms. (Actuate claims that more than half of new sales go to financial services firms with $1 billion or more in annual revenues).

Last week, Actuate made another performance management-related move, nabbing Toronto-based performancesoft Inc., a provider of corporate performance management (CPM) products and services, in an all-cash transaction valued at $16.5 million (US). Analysts say the performancesoft acquisition could be a boon to Actuate in a couple of ways: it fleshes out the company’s performance management stack, for one thing (CPM has become a de rigueur component of most of the platform BI suites); and it also gives Actuate cross-selling opportunities into performancesoft’s customer base.

Oh, yeah… one other thing: performancesoft also gives Actuate an analytic dashboard. And if you’re drinking Actuate’s brand of Kool-Aid, dashboards are the thing. “Dashboards and scorecards are the preferred applications to deliver executive-level information to manage corporate performance,” said Actuate president and CEO Pete Cittadini, in a statement. “Our customers will now be able to quickly build and deploy rich, intuitive and easy-to-use dashboard and scorecard applications, offering managers at all levels the ability to drill through from executive-level information to real-time operational details.”

performancesoft’s bread-and-butter product—pbViews—is a dashboard-based offering powered by an OLAP engine. It supports drill-down to real-time operational data. More importantly, however, it’s pitched as a tool for both the analytically savvy (business analysts) and the not-so-analytically savvy (business executives). Add it all up, says Robert Lerner, a senior analyst for data management with consultancy Current Analysis, and it looks like a sound move.

“Overall, the acquisition should be a good one for Actuate. The company needed to strengthen its corporate performance management capabilities, and performancesoft’s technology will enable Actuate to reap some immediate benefit, since the company’s pbViews can essentially be snapped into Actuate’s platform to give customers dashboard capabilities,” Lerner writes. What’s more, he argues, performancesoft and pbViews should help to retrofit Actuate’s spreadsheet-centric reporting line for CPM.

Be sure to do plenty of research on this and any other enterprise dashboard platform.

See recent post on Actuate Dashboards.

Tags: Meta Group rating of vendors for enterprise reportijng and enterprise dashboards, enteprise dashboard vendor comparison

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