Should BI Get the Rock Star (and Guitar Hero) Treatment?

Slash and Bill Gates Play Guitar HeroDan E. Linstedt has written many thought-provoking business intelligence topics; I have quoted his insights many times over the course of my BI product marketing work. Recently Dan blogged on the B-Eye-Network on the future of BI, wondering aloud why BI hasn’t seen the kind of visualization breakthroughs that continue on at breakneck pace in the gaming industry, resulting in games like Rock Star, Guitar Hero and more:

[W]e’re still dealing with the old column based [BI] delivery mechanisms, and we think that Pivot tables are “cool”…  Man, we’re stuck in the 80’s here people…

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Hire a game programmer to make BI/Analytics interesting, fun and maybe even addicting! What? And disturb the balance? What balance? What’s the hotest selling game out there (according to informal fad’s and polls and what I see selling)… maybe Guitar Hero? It’s on all the platforms. What does it do that makes you play it for hours on end?

INTERACT… It gives you a set speed, a set song, a stage, and a fake guitar with 5 buttons on it – you have (what seems like) infinite combinations of notes and speeds of notes to place your fingers on the buttons. Your skill level determines how fast the game goes…

Ok – so maybe the themes aren’t right for BI and analytics, but jeepers creepers, when I open up an application and the data sits there – I feel like I’m sitting in an elevator in the 1970’s listening to elevator music, waiting to push a floor button. Dry, Dry, Dry…

I like Dan’s line of inquiry here and so took up his challenge to reflect on this topic. What’s clear to me is the visual breakthroughs that have made games like Guitar Hero, Madden (NFL football) and countless others possible have been driven by the active demand of end users themselves, while this same end user demand for more realistic, graphical experiences doesn’t really exist for BI…

I am old enough to remember playing, for example, Atari XO Football, a coin-op arcade game about the size of a hip-height coffee table. The game featured football “players” that were literally X’s and O’s that scurried around a green screen football field using a trackball. This game and others like it at the time offered relatively nominal entertainment value. The strong market desire for a much more entertaining interactive football game (and many other games) led gaming vendors to leverage breakthroughs in processors, develop new graphics, design new handheld controls, etc., culminating in very realistic looking and playing football games (notably Madden), truly clever games like Guitar Hero, and the ground-breaking interaction of game play with physical movement in the Nintendo Wii gaming platform.

Now on to BI: Having achieved important breakthroughs in graphical rendering of data and, yes, pivot tables, I will go so far as to say that most of the “must have” visual features of BI are already fairly well covered. Unlike electronic games, BI is “used,” not “played.” The manager or worker interacts with an end user BI tool to render needed information in a useful format and then goes away to do something with that information, such as enacting a now-informed business decision or calling a manager to discuss BI-identified transactions outside the norm. I suggest this as-needed interaction with BI means the addition of more visualization to BI will hit a law of diminishing returns quickly. I recently observed a Microsoft Surface Table BI demo on YouTube, featuring a highly interactive, topographical analysis of building-by-building water lead levels in Seattle. Even while watching this truly innovative demo, I couldn’t help but wonder whether using an existing user-friendly OLAP tool, or even (dare I suggest it) an automatically-generated email (BOR-ing!) with an attached spreadsheet (yawn), alerting managers and executives of unacceptable trends of increasing water lead levels would result in quicker dissemination of such important news and faster corrective action.

Of course, I haven’t yet raised the keystone issue of BI: data accuracy. The fact that no actual notes or chords are actually played in Guitar Hero (that is, it’s not “real”) of course does not diminish the game’s entertainment value. In contrast, BI users, first and foremost, care tremendously that the data being provided is 100% “real;” that is, absolutely correct and accurate in every way. In fact, the accuracy of the data being presented is exponentially more important than the level of “gee whiz” factor of any new graphical visualization of the data presented to the point that if the data is inaccurate, the graphical visualization is irrelevant.

By no means am I pooh-poohing the work of the developers of the Microsoft Surface Table BI demo or others embarking on other outside-the-box BI “imagineering.”  I do agree that BI needs innovation so the data it provides is, in the words of Dan E. Linstedt, truly “used” and not merely “useful.” I just think those innovations are needed in comparatively mundane areas of BI, such as the development of data models that solve pressing business problems for a particular industry, and the trouble-free integration of powerful BI with the mother of all end user BI tools, Microsoft Excel – topics Dan has written quite a bit about as well. Ironically, I believe it is these areas BI vendors will find end users clamoring for innovation and ready to pay for it, hopefully resulting in rock star-level rewards for those vendors.

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3 thoughts on “Should BI Get the Rock Star (and Guitar Hero) Treatment?

  1. Hi Mike,

    Thank-you for the kind words, and thoughtful response. I agree – data needs to be presented in a meaningful way that makes sense and demands action.

    But thinking out of the box for a minute, what if… “what if analysis” could be made more interesting, like SIMS or real-world simulation of “staying in business or making money”. Now, SIMS is not extremely addicting, but nonetheless, it is very interesting.

    I’ve taken off in another direction for visualization, and that’s the nature of e-learning: how do people learn, how do people want to learn? how can we make it interesting? This is analytics and BI for content delivery… not just numbers. Soo what I’ve come up with is a small step in the right direction, which you can see on my web-site: http://www.TrainOvation.com

    I’ve been learning Adobe Flash, ActionScript, 3D modeling, and representation, rotation, interaction, and dynamic content delivery. It’s very very cool (I think) – but more than that, I believe I deliver content that is truly used, not just useful.

    The hope is that one day, BI “strategic planning” can be “game-like”, so one could see potential outcomes as a result of several inflow factors that are adjusted by the business user “playing the game”. One of the thoughts is to analyze “what happens to profitability when I change this business rule?” (then visualize it) before actually implementing the change. However we are a ways off from this.

    By the way, you can also follow me now on Twitter, just look for dlinstedt – See you on B-Eye-Network.com

    Thanks,
    Dan Linstedt

  2. Hi Dan. Thank for your comments and for your many BI insights which as I mentioned in my posting have been very useful to me.

    I think quite a bit of new graphical-related BI vendor activity has focused on what new functionality can be provided to handhelds. For example, a friend just informed me Corda has recently announced its new version of CenterView with a new iPhone dashboard application included. Not quite the new era of interactive graphical representation of data you wrote about, but … (Update: As you can see, they are very proud of their iPhone dashboard app!)

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