Business Intelligence: What Are You Thinking?

A new class of software can automate the thought process and help businesspeople make critical decisions-without hurting their brains.

Most of the businesspeople I know use Google Trends—an online tool that allows ordinary people to compare the frequency of Google search terms— to check out how an idea is resonating with the market, running multiple quick analyses to get an understanding of relative trends. I see this as an example of a new class of tools I call "thinking support," a kind of pre-decision support option that fits within the strategic management process.

I believe routine business decisions should be as automated as possible. After all, when a decision is routine and you understand the rules well enough, that decision can be made by software—using a decision engine—acting on those rules in a consistent, unbiased and auditable fashion. Weve seen a lot of examples of this over the past few years, such as program trading in securities, granting consumer credit, mortgage origination, inventory management, and support-desk escalation processes. But there are many more opportunities: markdown-pricing decisions—in fact any pricing decision—merchandise-mix planning, resource scheduling.

Because this is a new category, these tools tend to be a collection of not-yet-very-well-connected ideas from different sources. Take a look at the work going on at such diverse places as Applied Minds, The Swiss Institute of Technology, Group Systems, Minciu Sodas and Ventana Systems for a taste of the different types of thinking-support tools that are available. Overall, these tools do several useful and important things.

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