“History,” according to the English singer-songwriter Sting, “will teach us nothing”. It is not an original judgment but one promoted by the German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who argued that history, as mere collective experience, teaches us nothing unless we analyse the past, observe and question events and be inclined to learn from outcomes.

Early in December 1941, American military intelligence, using then state-of-the-art technology, managed to intercept and decode a set of highly secret, encrypted radio signals dispatched from Tokyo. The last of these 14 communiqués was intercepted on the morning of December 7, at 10am Eastern Standard Time (EST); it instructed the Japanese ambassador to break off all on-going negotiations with the United States at exactly 1pm EST, corresponding to 7.30am over Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.

A sharp American naval officer understood the significance of this precise Japanese timing and urgent war warnings were dispatched by the US War Department to all Pacific area commands. However, unsuitable procedures and lack of communications meant that the message was delivered to the American commander of Pearl Harbour two hours after the start of the Japanese attack. By then his dispatch had become a relatively irrelevant historical footnote.

This lesson from history can be easily juxtaposed onto the contemporary business world. An organisation may have the latest technology, and possess the most relevant and critical of information or knowledge, but unless it can act on it in a timely manner any insight is rendered irrelevant.

All too often corporate data is captured and processed ... across different systems and applications, using an array of operating systems

Traditionally, business organisations have been encouraged to implement business intelligence (BI) technologies in order to be able to process large amounts of raw data and transform it into meaningful and useful information to support established business strategies. The application of BI technology, access to large amounts of corporate data, proficient in-house capability as well as optimised business processes have long been considered important ingredients to garner healthy competitive market advantage.

History does teach; the Pearl Harbour analogy should act as a reminder that there are circumstances when mere possession of the best technology and critical information is far from adequate. In today’s highly dynamic business environment it is just as critical to concurrently have the capability to deliver this information, in a timely manner, to the people who can best exploit it before it sinks into utter irrelevance and worthlessness.

There are various factors that may hinder the rapid flow of in­formation from source to key stakeholders in the fastest possible manner. All too often corporate data is captured and processed by BI applications within artificial departmental boundaries – silos – across different systems and applications, using an array of operating systems. Although the organisation may utilise best-of-breed finance, sales, marketing and reporting applications, they may still potentially suffer from a general lack of information sharing across the different departments.

To counter against the so-called ‘silo effect’, organisations tend to collate key operational data from the different systems using manual ‘data export’ and ‘data import’ routines. Employees spend critical time accessing, reading and manipulating data in order to generate reports that, notwithstanding, provide restricted insight. Such a process wastes valuable resources and requires a relatively prolonged period of time and effort, rendering the delivered reports either out-of-date (historical) or of limited relevance to key decision makers.

In today’s highly competitive environment, it has become necessary to leverage BI techno_logies to support a unified and real-time information channel that cuts across departmental boundaries, unites best-of-breed applications and disparate operating systems, in order to provide key operational insight in the fastest possible manner.

For a growing number of organisations the rapid delivery of information has, in fact, become as vital as facilitating and speeding up the process through which key stakeholders interpret this information. The delivery of key insights has been improved by transforming the traditional approach to report generation to one based on dynamic and real-time, infographic, dashboards that present complex information quickly and clearly. Such information-based visual indicators tend to accelerate the decision-making process required to ensure prompt and remedial action in order to mitigate against evolving risk or to enhance any emerging revenue-generation opportunities.

Hindsight, it is said, is analogous to 20/20 vision while foresight is to be touched by genius. The American novelist William S. Burroughs is quoted as saying: “The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time ... and you cannot see it if you refuse to face the possibility.”

In a way, the presence of a well-implemented BI application serves to guard against the possibility “of something bad happening”. Just prior to the Pearl Harbour attack, US President Franklin Roosevelt flatly refused to believe that the Japanese would ever attack America on its own soil. History teaches us how incorrect he really was.

Wish to know the secret of BI? It’s about time.

Hadrian Sammut is a business solutions adviser with iMovo.

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