After seeing a demo of some of the latest BI (Business Intelligence) software and how they use mapping or geocoding software I was reminded of some of the computer games I grew up playing.
I’ve recently seen demos of various BI tools that are utilising various mapping extensions. The results are really impressive and fantastic at highlighting interesting areas of your business, related to a geographical area. However as I sat through these I began thinking I’d seen this sort of thing before. Probably about 15 years ago. They all remind me of the various computer games that have been around for ages – the specific area was top down strategy if I remember correctly. Games such as SimCity and Theme Park jump out at me as being of a similar style. You’d have a map of your area of interest – whether it was building a city, running a theme park or conquering the world – you’d deal with scarce resources, make decisions based on these restrictions and await the outcomes to react to. Sound familiar? Maybe this isn’t a surprising observation. The people developing BI tools are from a generation that grew up playing these games – actually many are probably from a generation that plays a more modern equivalent but I’m sure the point holds. Also many managers who use BI tools probably grew up using the interfaces of top down strategy games, so does this mean modern BI software development has been driven by some rather old computer games?
At PMSI we actually run a workshop program called ‘The Game’ in conjunction with COGNOS. In simplistic terms it uses the COGNOS BI platform to give you access to a fictional company’s performance data and the markets that they operate in. Utilising their dashboards you learn about the products they sell, how the sales are spread geographically and what sort of resources you have available. You then create a strategy, make choices about resource allocation and see how your decisions pan out. You can then forge on with your original strategy or react to the outcomes of your original choices. As I went through the workshop I was reminded of another classic computer game series – Championship Manager. Here you play a football manager who has limited money. You think about the style you want your team to play (your strategy) buy your players, set your tactics and play your match. After this you can continue to tweak tactics or be consistent with your original plan. Again you see similar themes and interfaces between BI tools and popular computer games.
None of these comparisons are derogatory to BI software. The 2 things are essentially doing the same thing – trying to give you access to as much information as possible in the simplest most presentable way. The complication that BI software has is that the underlying datasets are often much more complex so much more attention is paid to the back-end crunching of data as to the front-end interfaces. Recently however BI software does seem to have made a leap forward in the standard of front-end dashboards, suggesting that companies now see these polished interfaces as an important way of driving effective decision making, alongside the back-end toolkit. In the 1994 computer game ‘Theme Park’ the gamer had to build various rides on his empty land and then hire staff, attract customers and run a profitable park. You’d see your various workers walking to sites to fix or clean them and customers would come and go based on the quality of the park.
Perhaps this 18 year old game will give some clues as to where BI software is going. Could management be looking at real time views of sales reps moving around city maps trying to get to client sites before competitor reps!? As this happens could analysts already be trying to tweak prices and bundle products into contracts to win the deal!? Would customers be seen leaving in droves because of poor customer service!? All this would make business management sound quite fun with perhaps the main caveat being the fact that the concept of having 3 lives might not transfer as easily from the game world to the real world, or would it?
Written by: Gus Urquhart