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Are you looking at the world through BI Glasses?

Submitted by on 2013-11-13 – 7:02 AM


I’ve been thinking recently about how the things you do can affect the way you perceive the world.  For example, in the past few years I have cycled in and out of a casual photography habit.  I’ve noticed that whenever I’m in a photography phase, I become much more visually aware in general.  The world just becomes more visually interesting to me.   A famous study on inattentional blindness demonstrated that radiologists asked to count the number of cancerous nodules in an image from a lung CT scan often failed to see a gorilla imposed on the image.  Because their mind was looking for nodules, they didn’t see a gorilla.  Recently, I was struck by the realization that working in business intelligence (BI) has led me to see more BI in the world, both implemented BI and, opportunities for BI.  Perhaps when you work in BI long enough, you start to view the world through BI glasses.

Looking for SAS BI at the Faire

Over the summer my wife and I took our kids to a “Renaissance Faire,” one of those amusement parks with knights jousting, and court jesters walking around, and everyone is eating giant turkey legs.  At lunch time we headed for Ye Olde Foode Castle, and it was one of those deals where you have to buy food tickets which you then use to buy food.  I’m sure because they don’t want the teenage knights and maidens working the concession stands to be handling cash.

We bought our tickets, and then strolled around the castle to survey our options.  There was one window with the giant turkey legs, followed by separate windows for pizza, hotdogs, etc.  We stepped up to the turkey leg window (of course), and handed over our tickets.  And that’s when it happened.

The kid working the counter took the tickets, and fed them into a shredder behind the counter.  I watched in stunned horror.  He wasn’t just shredding tickets.  He was destroying data.  Right in front of me.

As we walked toward a table I said to my wife. “How could they just shred those tickets?  They should be counting them! How will they know which food sold more, or which kid was a better salesman, or whether they are behind or ahead their goals for the day???”  

She looked at me with disinterest. “I don’t think they care.  They have the money from when we bought the food tickets.  I’m sure they count the money, if that makes you feel better.”

“Yeah but there’s so much more they could know about the buying patterns of their customers if they just counted the tickets…”  I noticed she was (rightly) paying more attention to our kids than my data concerns, so I let the conversation drop.  At least I meant to.

A couple of hours later we were walking from the archery field to the main jousting grounds, and I said (out of nowhere), “Maybe they weigh the trash bags!”

“What?” asked my wife.

“The trash bags of tickets! They could still be counting the number of food tickets  collected at each window!  Maybe they label the trash bag of shredded tickets from each window, and at the end of the day they could weigh the bags, and calculate the number of tickets taken it at each window.  They haven’t lost all that information.”

Now there was a look of concern on her face.  “You’re still thinking about those tickets?”

Well, yeah, I was.  But it’s not my fault!  It’s the BI Glasses I’ve been wearing.  When you’ve got BI Glasses on, it seems like everywhere you look there is someone who is collecting data, or somebody who should be collecting data.  And it’s hard not to notice.

Have you Spotted BI in Your World?

My question to you is, do you think working in BI has made you notice more opportunities for analytics, even outside of your work life?  If you too walk around with BI Glasses on, please share in the comments the favorite piece of BI you have spotted implemented in the wild, or favorite missed opportunity.


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Quentin McMullen

Quentin McMullen has been programming in SAS for 15 years, and for the past year has been working on SAS BI projects. He has presented at national and regional SAS user group conferences, and can often be found corresponding with colleagues on SAS-L.
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