“Can You Really Manage What You Measure?” by Neil Raden


I have to say that BeyeNETWORK is becoming the go to place for intelligent BI insights.

In this recent article, Neil Raden challenges the received wisdom that, if you can measure something, managing it follows as a natural corollary. This is a problem that I have seen in a number of BI implementations. It can be characterised as the Field of Dreams problem, if we build it, they will come!

One way to better align BI provision with the management of an organisation is to make sure that any BI element that you deploy is targeted at answering a specific business question. It is important that answering the question leads to action.

If the reaction to learning that sales in the Philadelphia office are down by 2% is a shrug, then not a lot has been achieved. If instead it is easy to further analyse the drivers behind this (e.g. which part of the sales funnel is suffering from a blockage?, is this a temporary blip, or a trend?, is the phenomenon centred on a specific product, or across the board?, etc.) then we begin to embed the use of information to drive decision-making in the organisation. If this leads to an informed telephone conversation with the Philly branch manager and the creation of an action plan to address the fall-off in sales, then BI is starting to add value. This gets us into the area of Actionable Information that Sarah Burnett writes about.

This is one reason why it is important that business intelligence is considered within a framework of cultural transformation; one of the main themes of this blog.


BeyeNETWORK provides viewers with access to the thought leaders in business intelligence, performance management, business integration, information quality, data warehousing and more.

Neil Raden is an “industry influencer” – followed by technology providers, consultants and even industry analysts. His skill at devising information assets and decision services from mountains of data is the result of thirty years of intensive work. He is the founder of Hired Brains, a provider of consulting and implementation services in business intelligence and analytics to many Global 2000 companies. He began his career as a casualty actuary with AIG in New York before moving into predictive modeling services, software engineering and consulting, with experience in delivering environments for decision making in fields as diverse as health care to nuclear waste management to cosmetics marketing and many others in between. He is the co-author of the book Smart (Enough) Systems and is widely published in magazines and online media. He can be reached at nraden@hiredbrains.com.

12 thoughts on ““Can You Really Manage What You Measure?” by Neil Raden

  1. I think that the most authentic way to sell BI is probably not the most effective way, at least in the short run. When you talk to companies that have mature, useful BI implementations, the common thread that runs through them is, it takes time. Techies believe that can crush something in six weeks and participants think they know what they need. But BI is subject to the Observer Effect – when you examine those initial requirements, you change them. So BI is really a long term program and it takes a while to take useful form. Now it is possible to hit some low-hanging fruit, but the real trick is to implement a sustainable, enhanceable, cost-effective solution that becomes part of the fabric and culture of the organization. -Neil Raden

  2. I think you are right. While I believe that most BI functionality that I have deployed has added value from day one, it has often been only after a couple of iterations (adding some new functionality and dropping some that was thought – by business people – to be useful, but proved not to be) that it has become fully bedded-down and adding optimum value. Strangely this effect seems to be independent of how much prototyping you do. Maybe it is something to do with using information in anger?

  3. OK, I don’t know how that happened, that comment was meant for another blog. I guess is applied anyway, but that was an accident.

    Thanks for highlighting this Peter. The only thing I’d add is that it is crucial to understand that measurement that isn’t well designed can, and has, led to disaster. General Motors though that in 1982, they had 60% of the domestic US passenger car market, but what they had was 60% of the market for those cars produced in North America. They didn’t see or acknowledge the Japanese cars eating away at it. Executive compensation is another example. Enriching the C-types while the company (and the country) go to crap.

    Sorry, it’s raining today, maybe I’m a little irritable. Again, thanks for writing about this.

    -Neil Raden

  4. […] No Skills – “Business users often lack skills”, this seems both incredibly patronising (are only IT people smart enough to get it?) and also a poor excuse for BI teams not paying enough attention to education (see point 3. above). If business people truly lack the skills to use good BI, then they are probably unfit to be in business as the tools are pretty intuitive (if not over-engineered by an approach that is too technology-focussed). More likely, training has been poor, or the BI deliveries have failed to be tailored to answering questions that the business wants to ask. […]

  5. […] I think once again we arrive at the verity that there is no silver bullet in any element of information generation (see my earlier article, Automating the business intelligence process?). Many aspects of the technology used in business intelligence are improving every year and I am sure that there are many wonderful aspects to System S. However, this doubting Thomas is as sceptical as Neil about the more certain of the suggested benefits of this technology. Hopefully some concrete and useful examples of its benefits will soon replace the current hype and provide bloggers with some more tangible fare to write about.     Other articles featuring Neil Raden’s work include: Neil Raden’s thoughts on Business Analytics vs Business Intelligence and “Can You Really Manage What You Measure?” by Neil Raden. […]

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.