icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.


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The poetics of technical objects

About the demise, or reinvention, of business intelligence

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). The poetics of technical objects. About the demise, or reinvention, of business intelligence. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 9.7 (July). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-7.html

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). The poetics of technical objects. About the demise, or reinvention, of business intelligence. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 9.7 (July). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-7.html

London, 27 July 2020 - On top of the doubts and confusion on what is or should be the role of change and project management in these times of post coronavirus lockdown (see icm2re 9.6), in any sector, I see there are also concerns about sources of data and reliable strategies for information management and business intelligence.

It is a constant pain and sorrow for me not to be employed and engaged to design and develop new solutions to this type of problems. But this is the reality of many information specialists of my generation - to be underemployed or unemployed has become the new normal for many of us. Younger colleagues have taken over the whole process and they tend to design, plan, execute in cohesive teams with little or no contributions from external consultants.

On an intellectual side it is, as usually, very satisfactory to see that issues and ideas I picked up while practising and I shared three, five, ten or sometimes even more years ago have found a place to grow, in particular within the domains of operational research (Ågerfalk, 2020), neuroscience (Sharot, 2017) and intelligence studies (Räsänen and Nyce, 2013). I will return on the latest with the next article whereas here I would like to point the finger to an aspect that has been deficiently addressed in the former two fields, namely the ideal proportion of internal and external information sources in any information system. Is it really such an outdated, boring and unsellable issue?

Missing stories or missing storytellers?

Nobody has a ready answer about what to do with the existing ICT and business intelligence systems and models: nobody has factored in the risk of a pandemic.

The market for IT and AI solutions has still space for fools offering ready answers anytime and anywhere: you can recognise them often because of narratives that are out of time, fixated with the belief in eternal truths that just need to be discovered for you with the right tool! Oh yeah: unfortunately this belief springs from the roots of our western culture and it is very difficult to correct in any information system, leading to overvalue external information sources that usually at a later stage turn out to be redundant, scarcely pertinent or outdated.

But overall the ICT and engineering sectors are mature enough to recognise the AI has no boats ready to sail the mare magnum of Covid-19. Economic experts keep saying there will be no return to a normal way of life and a normal way to do business. Nobody knows what does this mean.

The economic crisis caused by the pandemic is resulting in thousands or millions of jobs lost in almost any industry, sufferance, miseries, shock, mental breakdowns. There is no accredited single way, scientific route or universal strategy to follow to exit the emergency.

To exasperate the state of general uncertainty, if it is true that turning to the past can bring some form of consolation because this is the first time that science is proactively helping the humanity to save human lives on a massive global scale, it is also true that history of previous pandemics does not give any inspiration on how to manage this new type of recession in which governments have purposely killed the economy to save lives.

In sum, even if public aids have been of essence and many have been keeping up with the usual providers of external information sources, it looks like new answers must be found or invented within the organisations or within the sectors, turning towards the creation of new processes and with them new indicators.

At the beginning of the information technology revolution the crucial point of an intelligence information system was to find the ideal, exact proportions of internal and external information sources, and to challenge what were at the time (early 1980s) traditional organisational structures very rich of roles, resources, ideas, negotiation power, internal training (Kelley 1965, Longo 1992).

Isn’t a bit of the same problem now? But, look, the search for efficiency in providing ready answers has led to a world in which there is no information officer left in the office. There is not even the information office anymore! That may sound heaven to somebody: while I was a young employee I had once, for a short period of time, a boss who told me - it was in a rage due to answers he found disappointing - “you do not have to think, you just give me the answer”. That’s it, use the internet and you will not be bothered.

Old wine for new bottles?

The purpose of processing information automatically consists in creating value by way of analysing both internal and external information assets in ways and at a speed that would be just impossible for human beings, no matter how skilled and brave.

There are still corporate search information retrieval and business intelligence systems on the market that care about transparency on controls and data connections. Others have been adapted and formally require to provide audit trails - for instance in defence and national security. The implementation of these systems requires, of course, human interventions.

But a lot remains to be designed and developed to ensure that the nitty-gritty of how a category field is filled up gets analysed in time, how a number is construed can be checked, why a conclusion is drawn from no input at all on a certain issue can be demonstrated, what lays behind a statement, what makes an assertion true, likely or a pure guess can be debated and argued by human beings.

Back in a pre-internet age, the balance between internal and external information was a major topic for all the people involved in business intelligence. Today we accept that most of the times the computer is right and if that piece of information shows at the same time in different feeds and sources… well, it must be right indeed!

We also tend to forget that the need to be deliberately obtuse while doing the job of delivering answers (“you do not have to think”) persists also in the AI environment and it rarely leads to anything else but disinformation and confusion.

Word of mouth, advertising, propaganda and smear, the entire arsenal of misinformation and disinformation have found an extraordinary ally in linked data, metadata and API widely used all throughout the web.

As any cybercrime analyst knows, the insider threats are in this respect even more difficult to spot and to recognise than flowed, compromised external information sources. On top of that, data can be compromised by error and ignorance, not necessarily because of criminal intents.

Open systems that are totally safe do not exist. The “digital by default” mantra we have seen propagating everywhere, from the civil service to retailing systems, for the last decade should be, in itself, a source of worrying for responsible information managers.

Cloud applications can show out of the blue how inconsistencies exist between the cloud databases and the contents of legacy internal information systems: but who is going to fix them? To facilitate the transformation and stay on time and on budget, the project managers and executives can decide that certain controls are incompatible and non so relevant and necessary anymore.

Sometimes even the same behaviours of employees dealing with internal information produce data that are, in turn, starting points for fallacious strategies, on assumptions with no real grounds but for erroneous representations of the organisation goals and achievements. Infographics and data visualisation play a large part in this type of internal deception, highlighting concepts, aspects or characteristics that would otherwise be seen in a totally different perspective if the eyes were not so pleased and amused.

In all this mixing and matching or mismatching of internal and external serendipitous information, it is no surprise that fantasy finds its ways. It is like an epidemic of disinformation.

We can argue this is a wonderful time for storytelling and imaginations and there is nothing wrong in the art of managing data if this work for a speedy recovery of the economy or to resuscitate terminally ill businesses.

But anyhow I would remember that intelligence and change start when there is no ready answer and one does have to think about it.

References

Ågerfalk, Pär J (2020) Artificial intelligence as digital agency, European Journal of Information Systems, 29:1, 1-8.

Kelley, W. (1965) Marketing intelligence for Top Management, Journal of Marketing, 29, 4, p.19-24.

Kiesler, C. A. (1971). The psychology of commitment: Experiments linking behavior to belief. New York: Academic Press.

Longo, B. (1992) L'informazione di supporto alle attività di marketing: soluzioni organizzative e fonti on line per un servizio di marketing information, in "Biblioteche oggi", 10 (1992), n. 1, p.49-79.

Sharot, T. (2017), The influential mind: what the brain reveals about our power to change others, Little Brown Book Group, 2017.