Putting the “Intelligence” in “Business Intelligence,” Part 1

I remember the first time I heard the term “Business Intelligence.”  I had been working on Excel for awhile at that point and loved crunching data, but boy, “Business Intelligence” sure had an intriguing sound to it.  It conjured up visions of darkened CIA situation rooms, Tom Clancy novels, technology that bordered on sci-fi, and a young Alec Baldwin (who in subsequent movies, transformed into a not so young Harrison Ford, then into Ben Affleck, and now… Captain Kirk?).

“Intelligence” sounded like a brand new direction, an empowering evolution to the Excel toolset that already turns mere mortals into business saviors.  “Sign me up,” I said, and became the lead program manager in charge of Excel 2007’s BI feature set.

Two years later, I was sick of BI and leaving the Excel team to do something less corporate.  It all had just turned out to be so much more formulaic and rote than what the term “Business Intelligence” had promised.  In short, here is what I had learned:

What I Had Learned about BI, Circa 2005

  1. “Real” BI was the domain of the IT department, which rightly sought to standardize as much as possible
  2. Excel usage, while empowering, was something that IT often regarded as a liability
  3. Real BI tools were usually just the visible component of a highly premeditated, IT-prescribed, multi-layer stack
  4. Excel users themselves had zero interest in “real” BI tools, and were disappointed that we’d done so much BI work in Excel 2007 instead of other spreadsheet features

I want to be absolutely, 100% clear:  I did not disagree with anything I had learned.  By then I had seen, with my own eyes, the real-world factors driving those trends, and had become convinced they were necessary.  There was nothing wrongheaded about standardization, centralization, and discipline.

No, I was not opposed to what I had learned.  Instead, I was just really disheartened by it.  The whole thing was like Kryptonite to a personality like mine.  I am very much “of the people and for the people.”  Big, top-down, standardizing efforts are not my cup of tea.  If it wasn’t their goal to drain all of the fun and creativity out of things, it certainly seemed like an accepted side effect.  If these things are necessary, was my thought, so be it, but let someone else lead that charge.

So off I went, in 2005, to pursue things that better suited my democratic mindset.

Lo and behold, a couple years later, I was back in BI.  And excited about it.  PowerPivot, of course, was what brought me back.  But I want to be more specific than that, and will do that in part two.

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