Saturday, 16 June 2012

Collaboration? Or persuasion and excuses?

Collaborative BI - it is one of the new buzz topics in Business Intelligence.  But what does it really mean.

The good folks at Merriam-Webster define collaboration as:

   to work jointly with others or together 
   especially in an intellectual endeavor

Which is a pretty broad definition. Within BI, that can probably mean many different things, from sharing the results of data discovery with your team via email, posting an Excel file on SharePoint, or putting up a PowerPoint at a group meeting - face-to-face or Web-Ex.  There are a gamut of existing tools to support this endeavor.

I do believe that people do this all the time.  People share information from BI tools with each other.  What I am not sure about is how "collaborative" it is.  Are people sharing information because they are sharing a common purpose, or is it because they are trying to persuade people to their point of view?

The Psychology Wiki page on Collaboration has some interesting definitions of preconditions for success in collaboration.  One of which is shared objectives.  They also talk about barriers to collaboration such as reluctance to share; another is hoarding - people hoarding information as a source of power.  I guess that if an organisation has difficulty with shared objectives and people hoarding or reluctant to share then no BI solution in the world is going to help them get over that!

I work a lot with QlikView so I get to see and hear about what they think collaboration is, and the features that they have implement to support what they think collaboration is.

Funnily enough, one of the collaboration features that I have pretty much never been asked for by prospects and customers is the ability to have shared sessions on a BI tool.  Nobody ever said to me, "can we have something like Web-Ex built into the tool so that we can share sessions with other people".  That is one of the main "collaboration" features that comes with QlikView v11.  I think that it is a good feature to have, but I am not sure that it is something that people will use to choose whether to make a purchase decision over a competitor.

One collaboration feature that I have quite often been asked for over the years, and QlikView have also introduced in v11, is the ability to add commentary (called "Annotation" in QlikView 11).  I am not a fan of commentary.  One of my clients has a great name for it - he calls it "excuses".  People rarely add commentary (or at least don't add very long commentary) on green traffic lights.  It is the red light that gets the commentary - "why we didn't make the numbers".

So far I am still to be convinced that collaboration features like this are going to be a really big deal in BI (although the marketers may make it so!).  I don't believe that it really is reflective of how people work in the real world.  There are some problems around the way people work together collaboratively, and those aren't going to be solved by a software solution - no matter how cool it is.

Stephen Redmond is CTO of CapricornVentis a QlikView Elite Partner
Follow me on Twitter: @stephencredmond


  1. Hi Stephen,

    Agree with your assessment of shared sessions. I've never had a client ask for this functionality. It is a nice novelty feature to demonstrate though, and most people I've shown it are impressed. However, if push comes to shove they never use it. Mostly interesting from a sales and marketing perspective.

    I find annotation are a little more useful. I now often use them during development and testing to collect feedback from users. In a production environment I think they can be useful too, even if most comments contain 'excuses' (I'll be using that term from now on :). The current implementation is too limited though. It would be more useful if QlikView could hook into a broader collaborative framework. So those comments could actually be transformed into actions. (not sure what that framework should be though, maybe something like Yammer, maybe a BPM solution)

    I agree that the biggest barriers to collaboration are cultural and political in nature. Aligning goals and objectives between the organization, individuals and departments is no easy task. Reluctance to share and hoarding is something that I've seen in many organizations. All this will not be solved by buying a cool tool.



  2. Suppose, collaboration in BI is more about sharing knowledge derived from data in context of that data. Usually, this knowledge is shared among co-workers separately from data -- mainly via emails. You look into numbers in one place, and learn meaning of these numbers (or reasons of their change) from another place. Why not put them together?

    Screen-sharing in QlikView is an interesting (and unexpected) feature. I still haven't decided if it's useful or not, however it's good to see new attempts and new ideas how to make data analysis more collaborative.

  3. I have to agree, its a very 'cool' feature but not one people are begging for. Than again, sometimes you don't beg for a feature until someone puts it in!