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Wisdom of Crowds in Business Intelligence

by Karthikeyan Sankaran on September 12, 2011 in Business Intelligence – A Practitioner’s View

The Wisdom of Crowds is a book written by James Surowiecki and the tag line for the title reads as “Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies and nations”. In this book, the author argues that in any kind of problem solving / decision making scenarios, collective intelligence of a group of people always produces better decisions than an individual, even the expert, working in isolation. There are 4 factors that characterizes wise crowds – Diversity of Opinion, Independence, Decentralization and more importantly Aggregation.

Given that ’Wisdom of Crowds’ is all about decision making, I feel that there is lot of relevance to the field of Business Intelligence & Analytics. In my mind, the core features of a Collaborative BI environment are:

  1. BI environment should have a ‘Facebook’ like interface that greatly simplifies interaction between users.
  2. Users should be in a position to reuse analytical components developed by others.
  3. Users should have the ability to communicate real-time within the context of a particular report / dashboard / scorecard
  4. Users should have the ability to subscribe to analysis done by other users
  5. Users should have the facility to recommend and promote useful analytical components to others
  6. BI platform should have the ability to aggregate the views of multiple users with respect to analytics, so that BI gets “crowd-sourced” within the organization.

Based on research, we at Hexaware, found out that software products in this area fall in the category of ‘Collaborative Decision Making (CDM)’ platforms and many of them have BI components embedded within them. Here are some of the products – Decision Lens, IBM Cognos, Lyza, Microsoft Sharepoint, Purus DecisionSurface, SAP Streamwork, Cogniti, Panorama Necto. Just to get a feel of what Collaborative BI is all about, check out this demo of Necto at this link.

Bottomline is that Collaborative BI platforms are here to stay. In my opinion, Collaborative BI along with its Actionable & Embedded BI counterparts form the triumvirate that enables Agility in Business Intelligence for organizations.

I will end this blog post with an apocryphal story about the ‘Tower of Babel’. Early humans developed the conceit that, by collaborating to work together, they could build a tower that could take them to heaven. Now, God, angered at this attempt to usurp his power, destroyed the tower, and then to ensure that it would never be rebuilt, he scattered the people by giving them different languages so that they cannot collaborate with each other. To me, the above story illustrates the power of collaboration and reinforces the fact that ‘Wisdom of the Crowds’ always produces better decisions than one taken by individuals, even by the so called experts.

Thanks for reading. Please do share your thoughts.

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