TV’s Election Coverage: BI in Action

Politics can provide many valuable lessons. The power of business intelligence, as clearly demonstrated by the TV election coverage, is one of them.

As I watched the television coverage of the U.S. elections last week, it occurred to me that this was a practical example of the use of business intelligence that could easily be used by BI practitioners to evangelize the power and benefits of business intelligence in a non-technical, and non-threatening, manner.

One of the most frequently asked questions about business intelligence (and the topic of innumerable Webcasts and white papers) is how to make BI more pervasive throughout an organization. While one of the primary methods for doing this is to make it easier to use by non-technical employees, I believe another way is to provide concrete, readily comprehendible examples. The TV coverage on election night demonstrated both.

While channel surfing for election results, I noticed that one station had a display board with a top-level menu that offered categories including voter demographics, key issues, states, and candidates. Selecting a category, such as state, allowed the commentator to, for example, drill down on demographics to see how “highly educated” or “voters over 50” expressed their candidate preference to pollsters in that state.

Drilling down on the demographic yielded the percentage breakdown; the demographics were also color-coded so that it was immediately evident if a particular group favored the Democratic (blue) or Republican (red) candidate. Although it was never openly stated, viewers were watching examples of OLAP such as drill-down and slicing-and-dicing. Several stations compared this year’s result in a state to the results in the prior presidential election; a definite example of OLAP across a time dimension.

On most stations, as states were awarded to the two candidates and the state was colored either red or blue on a map, viewers experienced the power and effectiveness of relatively simple visualization technique. Additionally, as the electoral vote results were updated, dashboarding techniques such as a gauge were used to show how close each candidate’s count was to the 270 votes needed to win the election, thus providing an example of a (if not the) key performance indicator (KPI) of the election.

Some viewers may have been impressed by gimmicks that included holograms of people being interviewed; they are likely to remember how easy it was to observe and analyze various election result trends thanks to the use of business intelligence. This is a lesson that they should be able to take back to their workplaces and apply to their business problems.

If you need an election-related vehicle to describe the benefits of data mining and advanced analytics, try to find a copy of The 480, a novel by Eugene Burdick, who also co-authored The Ugly American and Fail-Safe. Published over 40 years ago (in 1964), this (at the time) fictional work, supposedly based on real tactics used in the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon presidential race, describes how the electorate was segmented into 480 categories based on party registration, geographic location, religion, sex, race, white-collar or blue-collar profession, rural/urban location, and how customized messages were developed to win their votes. Today, this is one of the basic premises of campaign management, be it political or product related.

Politics can provide many valuable lessons. The power of business intelligence, as clearly demonstrated by the TV election coverage, is one of them. Talking about this at your own workplace may help make BI more pervasive in your organization.

About the Author

Michael A. Schiff is a principal consultant for MAS Strategies.

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