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What is business intelligence?

Here’s I.B.M.’s definition: Business Intelligence (BI) is a way to reveal actionable insights in your data, find out what happened, and then explore why it happened.  These insights can be used to chart or change the path of your business. 

When you understand the ‘why,’ it becomes simple to identify the factors in your business that are lifting you up, or holding you back.

The tools and technology of business intelligence give you the power to rapidly collect, organize, and analyse your data. From there, you can infuse the insights gained back into your business, and dramatically improve your results.

In my view, the main reason business intelligence can be inaccurate or even dangerous is that the information being collected needs to be well planned, concise and accurate, otherwise you will just add to the problem.

Let me give you a classic example.. asbestos surveys, in fact, any compliance surveys, but for this example I will focus on asbestos as it is my field of expertise. Most people are now using databases in one form or another, to manage their asbestos risk.  The common mistake.. and I see it all of the time, is not scoping the survey properly prior to commissioning the survey.  The primary question that should be asked prior to commissioning a survey is “What Business Intelligence” (BI) do I want to extract from the survey, what am I going to use it for and how is it going to help me not only manage my risk but help me to make judgements based on facts not assumptions.

Here is an example, (a true story)

A client was having their portfolio of properties re-surveyed for the third time!

The client tendered the complete re-survey of a large property portfolio, the tender stated that the portfolio required a full Asbestos Management Survey, as per HSG264, the surveying company must be UKAS accredited and have experience in surveying a portfolio of properties similar to the one being tendered. All the legal jargon was in there, so it had all the appearance of a professional tender.  The tender process was closely monitored by the procurement team and the tenderers were whittled down to 2 – mainly on price.  The final two were invited to present their package and one was selected.  A pre-start meeting was planned, all issues raised by the surveying company were addressed and the start date agreed.  The surveying company had their own software package, which the data would be uploaded to and made available to the client at the end of the process. The project was going to take 3 months and there would be regular progress meetings throughout. So far, so good.  The surveying company issued their risk assessments and method statements, along with the training records of the surveyors, effectively proving their experience in this sector.  Inductions were completed and the project got underway.

So, what actually happened?

The surveying team worked hard and completed the survey slightly ahead of schedule, all progress meetings had gone well, any small issues had been sorted and everyone seemed to be happy. Until the database was released!

The first item that stuck out was the number of non-accessed areas; the database held a total of 4728 individual rooms and areas, 924 were marked as non-accessed! Out of the 924 areas, only 126 were genuine (live electrics, operational machinery, etc) the rest were locked doors and even worse, not accessed because the area was over 3 meters high.  In all honesty, where were the surveyors expecting to find asbestos containing materials?   For on-going asbestos management purposes, this survey and consequently the data, was next to useless. 

I can hear people shouting “go back to the surveying company and get them to re-do it,” however, now it becomes contractual and if it wasn’t in the “scope” of the survey you’ve got yourself a bun fight!

So, what went wrong and how could the outcome have been different?

Before even writing the scope of the survey the procurement team should have ascertained exactly what Business Intelligence was required from the survey, this should include everyone’s input; managers, maintenance personnel, external contractors, building occupiers, finance, etc.  Only once all of the requirements have been collated should the scope be drawn up. 

Arrangements should be made for access to all areas, clarity on how genuine non-accessed areas should be entered, individual photographs for all areas and locations and just as important, what level of data is to be collected for each individual asbestos location. Let me give you an example;

HSG264 says that for the purpose of material risk assessment the following information should be collected:

  • Location Product type
  • Extent
  • Accessibility
  • Condition
  • Surface treatment
  • Asbestos type
  • Sample no
  • Sampled/presumed/strongly presumed
  • Material assessment
  • Score and action
  • Priority score
  • Action

Which is all well and good, but what additional information would make it easier to manage your asbestos and enable you to make effective decisions?  Asbestos is either “safe & manageable” (the legal minimum requirement) or it “requires action”.  Having a dashboard that identified this would be concise and easily actionable.  Also, a description of the matrix of each room, afterall it’s important to know what isn’t asbestos as it is to know what is.  The list goes on but I think you get the message.

Conclusion… Business intelligence is not just about data, it’s about relevant data that delivers to your individual circumstances defined by what you want to do with that data and how it should benefit you.

Steve Aldridge, Managing Director, ACMS UK Limited