"... we had the data, but we didn't have the information..."


By Boris Evelson

I know I am in the right business. Over 25 years ago, when I was a junior programmer on Wall Street, I heard the CEO of Citibank, Walter Wriston, say during one of the company meetings that “information about a transaction was going to become more important than a transaction itself”. I pondered on his prediction of the impending information revolution and decided to get into the business. I have not felt sorry ever since.

That is until now. I saw a good portion of my savings plan evaporate, some friends loosing their jobs on Wall Street in droves, and out of control media predicting, what basically amounts to, the end of the world (well, at least economic and social structures) as we know it.

What went wrong? While I am obviously not qualified to comment on the disastrous chain of events and a failure at every single link of the entire credit value chain (yes, I am not going to mention unreasonable social programs, uneducated consumers, greedy bankers and investors, ineffective risk rating agencies, and government regulation paralysis – did I miss anyone?), I am somewhat qualified to partially blame failed Business Intelligence at some levels of the credit value chain.

Forrester defines Business Intelligence as “a set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information used to enable more effective strategic, tactical, and operational insight and decision-making”. So what was missing? As a CIO of a large bank said today at the IBM IOD Conference in Las Vegas “we had the data, but we didn’t have the information”. Note the big difference between data and information. I can’t help but to recall Jerry Seinfeld’s tirade in one of the popular TV episodes when a rental car agency did not have a car that he reserved: “you know how to take a reservation, but you don’t know how to keep a reservation. And keeping the reservation is the really important part of a reservation. Anyone can just take them”.

Yes, Jerry, you were so right - we all know how to source, integrate and access data, but unfortunately many of us, as the latest economic crisis proved, still do not know how to transform it into information, and base the decisions on actual facts, patterns and trends, not social, political or emotional pressures. This is what happens when

  • A person applies for a mortgage that they can’t afford
  • A bank does not use fact based risk management reporting and analytics and lends to consumers that do not pass basic credit checks, do not have sufficient income, or enough savings for a sizable down payment
  • Credit agencies use outdated risk rating models, which do not predict risk correctly
  • Investors buy up securitized mortgage pools based on incorrect risk ratings and do not use fact based portfolio risk management and exposure reporting and analytics

When too many consumers default on the mortgages they can’t afford, the house of cards falls apart.

But the days of blaming IT for poorly architected or managed BI applications are over. Many large enterprise Business Intelligence vendors have robust, scalable, function rich products, and many management consultants and global systems integrators have reference architectures, solution accelerators and other best practices necessary for successful BI architectures, applications and implementations. The fundamental IT and BI components for fact based decision making are out there, ready to be used. Now it’s up to our business and government leaders to use this information to get us out of the current crisis and avoid new ones!