What is Collaborative Intelligence?

Spring 2007

Business Intelligence has long been associated with Business Innovation.

Any BI Vendor will tell you that all you do is gather all the information in the organisation in a big box and then hire some skilled analysts to extract the technical insights you need to make your business more profitable.

It has been the basis of the Business Intelligence business case ROI calculations for over a decade.

But is it really that easy?

The assumptions in the model are:

  • Key stakeholders within (and sometimes outside) the organization need just in time access to information held within the organization's databases and other ad-hoc digital media stores.
  • If these key stakeholders have access to this information they will be able to leverage this 'intelligence' to either reduce costs and/or generate income.
  • This increase in revenues or reduction in costs will prove profitable (The ROI driver for the original investment in the technology).

It appears logical. It provides a clear roadmap for any organization to leverage it's latent information and transform it into a profitable new income stream. What's more it offers the potential for innovation to be proactively monitored, measured and managed. But is the model valid?

Is putting all your intelligence in a box really the most intelligent way to solve this problem?

To find out let's take a look at what really drives innovation in any business.

Generally speaking, new products and services come from 4 different creative sources.

The first source is competition.

Competition drives innovation. It is pure ENVY that stimulates the desire to create the 'ME2' product. It is also this ''anything you can do, I can do better' response that challenges to be first to market with new products. The 'ME2' process looks very different to the innovation process and generally speaking history has proven it to be more profitable.

The ME2 process flow looks like this …

Monitor >> Acquire >> Study >> Imitate (Reverse Engineer) >> Improve >> Income

The second is the creative mistake or misinterpretation.

Normally encountered when the 'ME2' strategy goes horribly wrong but thankfully proves financially rewarding because it creates a brand new category.

The third source is acquisition.

If you can't think of anything yourself then go out and finance somebody who has.

This is of course a popular solution today to the paradox in big business when it comes to creativity and innovation. 'The ability to generate new and innovative products is inversely proportional to the size and success an organization.'

Finally, there is that old chestnut:

'Necessity is the mother of invention'.

The very simple idea that new and innovative products are solutions generated to solve real problems as, and when, the problems are encountered.

This of course is a key idea that corporations now try to preempt through the use of market research, strategic partnering and customer feedback loops.

Interestingly, none of these approaches are fueled by the idea that access to an unlimited source of information will by osmosis, or proactive effort, result in a new and profitable income stream.

In each case there is a catalyst that provides the spark to begin the process. The key to the four established innovation models is the problem.

The problem always comes first. (The efforts of the competition or the needs of a customer, are after all, just another problem to be solved).

It is only when the problem is encountered that the need for intelligence, information, investment, ideas and innovation is invoked.

The simple fact is Intelligence may assist in the effort but it is not the innovation driver unless, of course the intelligence effort is focused primarily on discovering problems that need to be solved. (e.g. Management by exceptions) Without the introduction of the problem the model is fundamentally flawed.

As an innovation investment Business Intelligence is nothing more than an investment in a solution looking for a problem that may or may not exist.

Innovation is not a question of volume it's a question of synchronicity.

This why today's market leaders are investing in collaborative intelligence as opposed to business intelligence.

Collaborative Intelligence Networks are based on real life innovation models. e.g. the human brain or the dynamic interaction of communities at work, play and co-operate.

They are the next generation in Business Intelligence.

In contrast to the industrial age "Hub and Spoke" theories of traditional Business Intelligence Technologies Collaborative Intelligence utilises the mathematical models of Chaos theory to aggregate and share corporate intelligence.

Collaborative Intelligence embraces the compelling ideas that shows us how point attractors lure systems to a state of rest. How cycle attractors move systems into loops and strange attractors lure systems to the edge of chaos

Basically how attractors within the network distort the landscape through feedback loops to create Amplifiers, Dampener and sweet spots.

It openly adopts and facilitates what is exciting and dynamic about groups of human beings. Things like group dynamics, fashions and trends. To improve overall corporate performance through embracing the "wisdom of Crowds". This is what makes knowledge networks exciting to those who use them.

In a Collaborative Intelligence Network the value of the results that are generated are proportional to the number of nodes in the network and the quality of those nodes.

So what does a Collaborative Intelligence Network look like?

It is a 'virtual' network of collaborating, extensible business intelligence data nodes. Intelligent nodes that hold very little information at the individual level but can rapidly aggregate and share large volumes of data across the network

  • Intelligent nodes that can quickly change shape and context within the network just like a living complex adaptive system responds to a change in environment
  • Intelligent nodes that collaborate on an ad-hoc basis to create complex 'many to many' relationships across the network to solve complex ad-hoc queries
  • Intelligent nodes that can 'hook' into many data sources
  • Intelligent nodes that can provide data feeds to mainstream reporting tools
  • Intelligent nodes that can be controlled and managed by all knowledge workers using their preferred Business Intelligence tool of choice. The humble spreadsheet.

A network of intelligent nodes that has the ability to change shape with the business in 'real time' as the business evolves to meet each new challenge.

There are two fundamentally opposing views on the value of Business Intelligence Technology in the workplace. One is Data Centric in its approach. The other is interested in how technology in the form of tools can be leveraged to empower employees to be more productive.

True believers of the "Global Theory of Data" believe that the real benefits of your Business Intelligence can only be fully realised when all the data is centralised into a single location. Simply because only then can it be effectively monitored, measured and managed to ensure accuracy and availability.

The supporters of 'knowledge' empowerment point to the success of Spreadsheets, Word, PowerPoint and the Internet as tools to assist the democratisation of technology and the explosion in knowledge and innovation over the past 20 years. Organizations who pursue a Collaborative Intelligence strategy believe it is a mistake to think of Business Intelligence in purely technology terms.

The reality is the successful business intelligence strategy employs elements of both 'ideologies'. The data centric perspective deals with the issues of Knowledge Management and Regulation. The empowerment deals with the issues of Knowledge creation and distribution.

"Old School" Business Intelligence is focused on the technology and resources required to improve the overall quality and quantity of data available to the business for the purposes of managing the business. It is a tactical solution to a strategic problem.

"New School" Collaborative Intelligence is about strategically positioning all your resources (Human, Capital, Technological, Customer etc…) to create sustained growth, improve productivity and reduce costs while at the same time providing all the stakeholders in the business (Shareholders, Employees, Suppliers and Customers) with a reason to be excited about doing business with you.

There is a growing acceptance of the idea that analysis is a collaborative (not a singular) effort.

This means Business Intelligence must evolve into an integrated collaborative enterprise network where the network is no longer a collection of databases.

Today 'the network is the database'.

There is also a growing awareness that just being informed by analytics is not enough. If Business Intelligence is to be of operational value you need to be able to take 'real time' action as and when it is required. To achieve this you need the intelligence embedded in the system.

To meet the challenge Business Intelligence is evolving to become proactive, real-time and operational. Once it is integrated with the business processes it will extend its reach beyond the boundaries of the organisation to other organisational stakeholders such as suppliers, partners, customers, and government agencies to improve information delivery and decision support functionality for all.

In the future Business Intelligence will find its way to the vast majority of users by being embedded within the tools already being used by these end users.

The tool of choice for most knowledge workers being the humble spreadsheet.

These Intelligent Business Networks will initially automate repeatable, operational decisions to address both performance management and compliance issues before evolving into self regulating intelligent networks proactively monitoring and improving the performance of the enterprise.

This means the current focus on monolithic and expensive Business Intelligence suites and data warehousing "stacks" will lose favour as organizations go in search of solutions that thrive within the wider, integrated business process network. Collaborative Intelligence will become 'operational Business Intelligence' supported by a technical architecture dominated by intelligent software agents.

Intelligent Agents at the very heart of the process monitoring, controlling and advising management of the performance. The reality today is these intelligent agents are not intelligent software agents; they are people using Excel Spreadsheets. This is why it is mistake to think of Business Intelligence in purely technology terms.

But sometime in the near future these spreadsheet jockeys will be replaced by a collaborative network of intelligent agents. When this begins to happen organisations may finally begin to see a significant improvement on the ROI of their Business Intelligence technology.

Copyright 2007 Digital Partners Pty Limited. All Rights Reserved.