What was the question?

Sep 24, 2012

The answer is 42. For those who are fans of "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," you know the story of how interstellar traveler Arthur Dent, while visiting another planet, learns that another race of beings had created a supercomputer to answer the ultimate question of the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. It took millions of years to compute the answer, but by that time nobody really remembered the question.

This often happens when working with BI solutions that have been established for awhile. It can also be an issue while trying to gather requirements. People often become so focused on the answer (and particularly if it is "right" or not) that they forget the question. What is the real purpose of the data? What do you do with the analysis? How will it change your behavior and decision making? What will you do differently in the interaction with the student or constituent knowing the answer you have?

Every so often in any Business Intelligence (BI) program it is essential to step back and consider: "What was the question?" If you cannot honestly come up with a purpose for a report, measure, or Key Performance Indicator (KPI) than maybe it is time to retire it and review what is really needed to answer new questions at hand. Don't wait until everyone forgets and none of the information is meaningful.