I was invited to a presentation once by one of the worlds leading experts in the development of business intelligence tools, otherwise described as the technology and practice of applying information to make decisions. I learned quite rightly that in order for information to be usable, it must be trusted, timely, relevant, easy-to-use, and in context. I learned that executive dashboards could be used to put information in context, and in an easy-to-understand format.
I learned that different tools share the same answers to the same questions, gain more value from your information investment, and make better decisions.
It was truly the answer to the totally "information empowered"enterprise, where the personnel had the answers at their fingertips and the executives could spin problem models around in every which way and paint pictures on the data points and set traffic light indicators where numbers went above and below the pre-set threshold.
One of the people presenting was a young man from a blue-chip insurance company. His job was to tell a story to the audience, from a customers perspective about how the company he represented had maximised the return on investment(ROI), from implementing these tools across about 40 different locations across the world.
He had prepared an excellent presentation and even showed us how it was possible to slice and dice a high level data cube, whilst connected via the Internet, using a wireless laptop connection. In fact he got so carried away that he spent over an hour taking questions on the numerous features that were available in the analytical software. Essentially he was showing us a high level snapshot of underwriting performance data, categorised by Broker, Product and Sales Location.
Once he had finished he asked the audience if they had any questions. It seemed appropriate to stand up, as the previous questioners had done before. Bear in mind that there were about 200 other people in the room, most of whom were from the banking and insurance industry.
"Yes", he said, "what is your question?". I felt myself getting ready to sit back down again, in shame of the question i was about to ask. But i decided to stay standing given i had been invited to share my opinion as a security consultant - and i just couldn't help myself but to ask...
"Well", i said, "is it ok to ask a question on the security aspects of your presentation?"
To which he replied.. "yes of course".
"Well", i said "Why is the Loss Ratio at 95% on your Label V Taxi insurance product, when i know for a fact that a motor insurance underwriter not that far away is flying at around 70%?" I said, "don't you guys know how to run a motor insurance business?".
To which there was a gasp, a series of muffled chuckles, an uncomfortable silence (which seemed to take an age to revive), followed by a rather hurried end to the proceedings.
My point was of course less to do with showing them how stupid they were by using live data in a presentation to competitors and more to do with the dangers of using BI software. By dragging and dropping a few dimensions over a fairly simple data cube, it is possible to gain access to data that in the past would have been locked behind green character based screens, in the bosses head - or better still - locked away in 100 cupboards upstairs.
That's why corporate espionage is getting easier. Thanks to Business Intelligence Software.