Information Networks and Business Intelligence: Decision Locus and Political Hotbed
Business Intelligence (BI) applications have become increasingly widespread. However, only organizations that see how BI crosses conventional wisdom can translate its benefits into tangible improvements. The focus of the present case analysis is on the implementation and use of BI systems by Marshfield Clinic and Exclusive Resorts Club. The paper includes a review of the goals and priorities in the context of BI implementation. The methods for implementing BI and the role of socio-technical factors are also considered. The paper reviews the problems and limitations imposed by organizations on their BI systems and reinforces the centrality of the human factor in crossing the boundaries of conventional use in organizations.
Keywords: business intelligence, organizations, socio-technical, human factor.
Information Networks and Business Intelligence: Decision Locus and Political Hotbed
Business intelligence (BI) has become a distinctive feature, as well as potent driver, of change in the information systems adopted by organizations in the 21st century. Despite their pervasive complexity, the meaning and practice implications of the BI concept have been extensively explored. Contemporary organizations are willing to deploy complex BI solutions in an effort to gain a strong competitive advantage and acquire a more powerful position in managing and using large volumes of data. Numerous businesses report substantial positive shifts they have undergone primarily due to the timely implementation of BI. Despite the advantages promised by BI, its potentials are not always fully utilized. The biggest problem with BI is that businesses limit its scope to purely technical aspects, while ignoring the crucial importance of socio-technical factors related to BI. Based on the case studies of Marshfield Clinic and Exclusive Resorts Club, the success of BI implementation and function depends mainly on whether organizations realize its inherently collaborative and interactive nature and whether they are ready to adopt a socio-technical view on BI, turning it into a major instrument of enhanced interactions between humans and technology.
Setting Goals, Priorities, and Stage for Running BI
As the use of BI systems becomes more widespread, organizations are more willing to report the achievements made with the help and through the extensive use of BI. The cases of Marshfield Clinic and Exclusive Resorts Club reinforce the importance of BI applications in gaining and sustaining a strategic business advantage. More often than not, the adoption of BI-based strategies is presented as being synonymous to "change". Both Marshfield Clinic and Exclusive Resorts Club recognize the potential for change provided through BI (Konitzer & Cummens, 2011; Microsoft, 2011). The two companies describe the effects brought by their respective BI systems as the beginning of broad organizational restructuring. However, this change covers different aspects of performance and addresses the issues and complexities that are unique for each organization.
One of the first questions to be answered by organizations that want to adopt BI is why they should do it. That is, what objectives and purposes is the future BI system intended to serve? Regardless of the mission, vision or culture of the target organization, BI solutions are always about "transcribing data into information and knowledge to create an environment for effective decision making, strategic thinking and acting" (Olszak & Ziemba, 2007, p. 137). Yet, the effectiveness of the new decision making environment will certainly depend on how well the proposed BI system aligns with the goals and strategies of each organization and how perfectly it fits in the organizational culture of the target business. For Marshfield Clinic, the implementation of the BI system was a timely response to the broader changes affecting the healthcare industry (Konitzer & Cummens, 2011). The clinic needed a more accurate and reliable tool for managing its data analytics and transforming it into strategic decisions (Konitzer & Cummens, 2011). Moreover, given the complexity of its organizational structure and the presence of numerous satellites across the U.S., the new BI system had to be readily accessible from any organizational location (Konitzer & Cummens, 2011).
In contrast, Exclusive Resorts faced an entirely different set of problems, inflexible technology and lack of connectivity being the primary ones (Microsoft, 2011). The company ran three different systems for its members, which had to be integrated into a single solution to yield an optimal business and customer result (Microsoft, 2011). In either case, BI was deployed to support and promote more effective decision making at all organizational levels (Olszak & Ziemba, 2007). Both systems were successfully designed and implemented to support decision making and data analyses in all areas of organizations' performance, from financial to productivity and customer service management (Olszak & Ziemba, 2007).
One of the first lessons to be learned here is that contemporary organizations view their BI systems as a unique combination of intelligence and analytics. The two terms are used interchangeably, even though they bear considerable distinctions. According to MacKrell and Boogaard (2012), an essential difference between BI and BA is that the former focuses on measuring and analyzing past performance, whilst BA offers an insight into the future. Apparently, Marshfield Clinic and Exclusive Resorts Club enjoy different approaches to managing their BI systems. Exclusive Resorts is more about using business intelligence to analyze past data and use past measures for the creation of robust reports (Microsoft, 2012). Marshfield Clinic also relies on the past data but considers using predictive analytics to forecast changes in demand and predict the impacts their services will have on the quality of patient care (Konitzer & Cummens, 2011). Still, in most aspects, the BI systems adopted by businesses are past-oriented. Most likely, such systems are best suited to serve the diverse information management needs of businesses.
Implementing BI and Measuring Its Effects – Socio-Technical Aspects Come into Play
Once the goals and priorities are set, it is time to define the most suitable BI implementation methodology. Olszak & Ziemba (2007) write that successful BI implementation will inevitable require that organizations accomplish four important activities. First, ongoing research and analysis of the changing information needs within organizations is needed (Olszak & Ziemba, 2007). Second, decision makers should constantly collaborate with knowledge management centers and IT personnel (Olszak & Ziemba, 2007). Third, information sharing should be facilitated at all times (Olszak & Ziemba, 2007). Fourth, organizations must develop and constantly refine their capacity to interpret and manage data (Olszak & Ziemba, 2007).
This is where the second important lesson becomes obvious: implementing a BI system and measuring its effects is impossible without active and regular involvement of human actors. The recent transition from the industrial to knowledge era has once again reinforced the need to consider the social factors of technological change (Lusa & Sensuse, 2012). Such factors are equally important at all stages of implementing and running BI, but few organizations readily take them into account. The development and implementation of BI systems can be successful, only when all human stakeholders involved can identify and model knowledge, modify data repositories and generate their own reports, interpret results and use them in strategic decision making (Olszak & Ziemba, 2007).
Both Marshfield Clinic and Exclusive Resorts Club present their BI successes as a complex product of sophisticated collaborations among multiple users. It is with the help of their multiple users that both companies have managed a more holistic view on their BI systems and the strategic changes to which they eventually led. MacKrell and Boogaard (2012) say that businesses are typically cautious making large BI investments at once. Moreover, most BI benefits are difficult to capture and even more difficult to measure (MacKrell & Boogaard, 2012). Yet, Marshfield Clinic and Exclusive Resorts both report quite tangible and measurable positive shifts in their ROI, patient safety, and other financial and quality indicators. Most likely, it is because the human users involved in implementing and running BI possess sufficient insight into the data generated by the systems and can easily interpret and translate it into effective strategic change (MacKrell & Boogaard, 2012). Both companies confirm that their human users take an active part in report generation, data interpretation and analysis, and organizational decision making. One of the key questions is whether these advantages can easily sustain in the long run.
Turning BI into a Driver of Knowledge Work
The cases of Marshfield Clinic and Exclusive Resorts Club point to the serious limitations which contemporary organizations tend to impose on BI. At the same time, not every organization with a robust BI system in place can recognize the importance of continuity, regular insight, and human factor in managing and interpreting data. Although the two organizations acknowledge the contribution made by human users to data generation and its subsequent translation into strategic decisions, they pay little attention to the problems they might face in the future.
As mentioned earlier, BI is a socio-technological phenomenon. That is, its effectiveness rests on firms' ability to create a productive synergy of humans and technologies. As a unique kind of technology, BI needs to be socialized (Degerstedt, 2015). This is one of the primary conditions for leveraging the data management and strategic change potentials of BI to their fullest. Organizations that pass a long and thorny way to implementing BI should create a holistic picture of human-technology interactions. They should maintain the most favorable conditions for knowledge work, which will create new value and turn BI into a source of tangible organizational improvements. According to Degerstedt (2015), not every organization can meet the challenge of knowledge work, since it is highly unstructured, uncertain, flexible, autonomous, changeable, and non-traditional. It is different from everything the organizations of the past have ever accomplished. Therefore, every BI system that comes to existence brings with it revolutionary changes in organizational management and culture. Unfortunately, neither Marshfield Clinic nor Exclusive Resorts provide any information about such changes. However, given the successes they have achieved, they have managed to capture the intangible promise of BI to restructure their daily routines.
The development and implementation of BI systems require that organizations develop a systemic understanding of their socio-technological environment. The two cases considered in this paper confirm that successful BI systems cannot be limited to the technical aspect. The success and effectiveness of BI depends on the effectiveness and continuity of knowledge work, as well as organizations' readiness to bring humans and technologies together for deeper information insight and more productive decision making. Only organizations that think beyond the immediate technologies and anticipate the value of human involvement can utilize the hidden potentials of BI to their fullest.
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Konitzer, K., & Cummens, M. (2011). Using analytics to improve patient outcomes and billing accuracy at Marshfield Clinic. TDWI. Retrieved from https://tdwi.org/articles/2011/07/11/case-study-using-analytics-to-improve-patient- outcomes-and-billing-accuracy-at-marshfield-clinic.aspx.
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