Business Intelligence: Identifying Information That Really Matters

By Larry Bonfante  |  Posted 05-19-2011

Lately there has been a great deal of focus on the topic of business intelligence--and with good reason. Being able to separate key information from the mountains of data we all collect in our organizations is critical. Even more critical is being able to provide our key decision-makerswith the right amount of information in the right format at the right time so they can make intelligent strategic decisions.

So how, exactly, do you pull this off? Give me three minutes to explain

I am a big believer in the "power of three" approach when it comes to delivering critical information to key executives. "Now wait a minute," you're probably saying. "I have hundreds of pertinent data elements that reside in multiple databases. How do you expect me to limit this to three?"

My experience has been that providing people with too many data points and too much information is just as bad (if not worse) than not providing enough. While there's no doubt there's many data that are germane to running a business, you are best served by limiting how much of it you provide to your executives. Keep it to three key elements, and communicate with them to determine which three data points make the most sense.

Let's look at a practical example. One of the most strategic initiatives at the USTA these days is our 10 and Under Tennis program. The focus of this effort is on providing children with the right-sized equipment, balls and courts to allow them to have early success -- and fun -- playing tennis. The easier it is for them to learn the game and to feel competent at it, the more fun they will have and the more likely they will be to continue to play.

There are countless metrics that could help gauge whether our youth initiative is succeeding. But, after a great deal of conversation with the executive who is leading the program, we have settled on these three:

  • How many facilities are providing 10 and Under Tennis programs?
  • How many programs are there in the United States?
  • How many kids are registered to participate in these programs?

Our thinking is that, while there are many other interesting metrics we could capture and review (i.e., racquet sales, ball sales, number of smaller courts being created, etc.), all of these other metrics are driven by these three main data points. Before you decide that three is too small a number, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do your executives love to plow through reams of data?
  2. Do they have time on their hands to review countless data elements?
  3. Do they have endless patience to find the hidden treasures in the data?

Right. I didn't think so.

In the end, perhaps it all comes down to a practical application of Albert Einstein's "Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; from discord find harmony; in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

Larry Bonfante is CIO at the United States Tennis Association and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of
Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at