Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Business Intelligence?

Numerous modern thinkers have made the important distinction between data, information and wisdom: they are clearly not the same thing.

When it comes to business intelligence, we want to collect the right data, consolidate it into meaningful information, and apply our own wisdom to interpreting that information to our benefit.

On the surface of things, the field of business intelligence is all about gathering as much data as possible. We can then turn that data into reports, dashboards, and presentations for our colleagues that are meant to guide better business decisions. However, as anybody today knows, there is certainly such thing as having too much information at our fingertips. Why should this be? After all, when it comes to information, isn’t more always better? Emphatically, the answer is “No!”

The reason for this boils down to our all-to-human inability to consider more than a handful of data points at any given moment. Even the smartest among us cannot hold in full awareness more than a few facts at any one moment. Instead, what smart people excel are the skills of filtering, prioritizing and grouping data points in order to achieve a particular objective. That is, they are experts at filtering out the noisy data, prioritizing the useful data points, and grouping the useful data points into higher level categories upon which decisions can be based. An uncluttered mind makes the best decisions.

With that in mind, here are three guidelines to placing at your fingertips just the right amount of business intelligence to make effective decisions:

1. Start by determining exactly what it is that you are trying to decide before you dig into the data. Whether you are perusing data looking for patterns or trying to answer a specific question, keep your intent in mind as you gather the information you need.

2. Only compile data into information (i.e., reports, dasbhoards, etc.) once you do have determined a specific purpose for that data. Less is more.

3. If comparing multiple options for a particular decision, if possible combine all of the variables about each option into a single “score” so that you can rank your options easily. Remember, your brain can much more easily compare 20 options along a single dimension (i.e., a score) than by trying to take 5-10 variables about each option into account at once.

As you endeavor to leverage business intelligence to take your business to the next level, try focusing less on piling more information on top of the heap and instead focusing more on intentionally subtracting out what you don’t need. Knowing what to ignore may be the most important skill you can hone when it comes to gathering and using business intelligence to grow your business.