Maybe a Decision support system should be about being able to ask the right NEXT Business Questions, and less about getting all of them answered?


I am a huge fan of the comedy science-fiction series 'The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy',
by BBC writer and Author Douglas Adams.

In this story, a computer has been built to answer the question of "The secret to Life, the Universe and everything". After finishing its 7.2 million year calculation, an answer is produced.

It turns out that the answer to the question "What is the meaning of life, the universe & everything?" is '42'.

Puzzled, the characters in the story confront the computer protesting the answer does not make a lot of sense.

Decision support and Business Questions

When asking Business Questions, (and creating a system to get them answered), we get a lot of confirmation answers. They confirm what we already suspect. Most of these questions can be anticipated, so the initial build of our Decision Support System can take many of them into account. 'Yes, margin is going down in that region. Yes, as we reduce stock, our service level will be impacted.'

Often though, an answer to a Business Question can be more of a puzzle than we had expected.

Being able to then ask the next question becomes an important attribute of any robust Decision Support System.

If our time to market for including new questions is too long, people will disconnect and try to get answers somewhere else.


In case of the Hitch-Hikers Guide, the computer does not stop there.

It too protests, claiming that it had not been asked the right question. It then proposes to design a new computer, roughly the size of planet earth, capable of coming up with the right question. The question to which the answer '42' will make perfect sense...

Business Intelligence & Decision Support ... evolution

Maybe we should worry less about creating a system which is capable of answering most-if-not-all Business Questions,
including all KPI's possible,

but more on a system which enables us to ask right questions fast,
and evolve to answer the next questions even faster.

Back to the book ...

Time to market turns out to be critical with getting our Business Questions answered.
If they need to wait too long, end-users loose interest.

A similar thing happens in the Douglas Adams story: a new computer is designed & built. It just needs 8 million years more to calculate the answer. Unfortunately, 5 minutes before completion, it is destroyed. For the Hitch-hikers Guide adventure, this is the point of departure. If you want to know how it all goes from there, I gladly invite you to pick up the book.

And remember : Don't Panic