Update: This post has been updated to include three new books, and to reflect new developments in “Game of Thrones” since last publication (fall 2016). Spoilers ahead if you’re not fully caught up, along with season 7 speculation. Also, the north remembers.
What’s “Game of Thrones” doing in Capterra’s business intelligence blog?
Why, demonstrating one of the best habits a BI professional can get into… reading the top 13 business intelligence books!
If you expand on an oft-mentioned definition of business intelligence— getting the right facts to the right people at the right time— then the seventh season of “Game of Thrones” will (arguably) revolve around business intelligence.
At the end of season 6, Sam Tarly was sent to the Citadel, which houses Westeros’ biggest library. That’s because Sam suspects there’s intelligence in all that data (yes, books count as data, everything is data) that could help save Westeros from White Walkers. Which is all to say, the right data could keep the world of “Game of Thrones” from becoming “The Walking Dead.”
That’s not the only example of business intelligence in GoT. If BI is getting the right information to the right people then, say, the Battle of Blackwater Bay could be considered a business intelligence success story (call me Armstrong, because that’s a stretch).
Tyrion Lannister reads, endlessly, as you can see in the clip below.
Thanks to that reading, he discovers a way to surprise Stannis Baratheon’s men and get the upper hand, late in the second season. It’s data collection (reading to find out the information), data integration (reading about wildfire + reading about the city’s hidden passages + probably a jillion other books, he’s Tyrion), and a data-driven strategy (hold off Stannis’ men).
You might even say books, like the ones Tyrion reads, are the original BI dashboards. They definitely give Tyrion the data he needs for a lucrative result, though his profit is a victory, rather than a deposit. That’s not too much of a stretch, right?
But let’s not strain this metaphor too much, and instead let’s leap into the sort of books Tyrion would read, were he interested in business intelligence.
I’ll also look at other times GoT revolved around reading. Some of the most important developments in the series involve books and reading. There is only one god, ignorance, and to him we say: not today.
Also, spoilers. For GoT.
Growing Business Intelligence: An Agile Approach to Leveraging Data and Analytics for Maximum Business Value” by Larry Burns
Burns’ focus may be on enterprise initiatives, but his advice is good for any size business. His principal suggestion is to approach business intelligence as a two-pronged problem, equal parts technology snafus and people problems (he cleverly characterizes this as a minotaur, half-man and half-bull).
It’s canny advice, especially when you consider that problems with people and processes can keep even the best software from being effective. (For more on the primacy of people in making your organization data-driven, check out my colleague Daniel Harris’ interview with Alan Duncan over at Software Advice). Burns also suggests that BI projects adopt an Agile strategy; as he points out, this can be a controversial position.
Standout review: “Larry’s done it again. This highly acclaimed author and presenter’s previous book continues to rate well, and I predict he’s published another winner. If you are working in the BI world, or even considering it, this book may well save you embarrassment, and save your organization real money… as the title declares, it’s all about delivering value.”
You know which GoT character didn’t like reading or being data-driven? Joffrey Baratheon, the Justin Bieber of Westeros. I can’t think of any better argument to read about business intelligence than “don’t be like Joffrey.”
“Fundamentals of Business Intelligence (Data-Centric Systems and Applications)” by Wilfried Grossmann and Stefanie Rinderle-Ma
Academic language ahoy: “Fundamentals” has a lot of useful, high-level information, but accessibility is not its strong suit. Authors Grossmann and Rinderle-Ma address everything from data visualization to data modelling, but the book’s academic style may alienate some readers.
“Fundamentals” provides a thorough grounding in business intelligence basics, though, so if you want considerably more depth than what you’ll get on Wikipedia, this one’s worth at least a browse. If you’re still looking for an introduction, however, I’d start elsewhere.
And speaking of introductions, there’s a scene in “A Dance with Dragons” (yes, I’m talking about the books rather than the TV show) where Tyrion is asked to write an introduction to dragons and dragonlore. A character named Young Griff asks Tyrion to write down everything he’s read about dragons. As it turns out, this is because Young Griff is (or might be) Aegon Targaryen (Daenerys’ younger cousin), and therefore another claimant to the throne. Which also means that Tyrion’s information about dragons would constitute yet another form of business intelligence, maybe helping Young Griff use Daenerys’ dragons to take a bite out of the Lannisters.
Insert image “Tyrion writing dragonlore” with caption “Yup, this is how Tyrion looks in the books. That roguish scar from the end of season 2? He loses his nose in the original.”
“Data Analytics For Beginners: Your Ultimate Guide To Learn and Master Data Analysis” by Victor Finch
Victor Finch’s “Data Analytics for Beginners” is another good introduction, and has the benefit of being the most current book on this list (published May 2017). Finch’s book is approachable, especially given how quickly introductions to data can get bogged down in bad explanations and unnecessary details.
Maybe best, he’s straightforward about the fact that data isn’t a magic bullet. Like he says, “half of the information that is collected later turns out to be useless, which means only one thing: companies should find efficient means to turn their data into insightful and usable information.”
In other words, data won’t solve your problems unless you know what data you need, and how to use it. Fortunately, Finch’s book can help you meet both of those needs.
It’s important to both collect, and use, your data properly. That’s what Jon Snow’s trip north of the wall was, from a certain point of view. He turned something unfortunate (being captured by Wildlings) into an opportunity to collect data (determining the size of their army, how they lived, what they were like). That knowledge helped him repel a Wildling horde at the end of season five. It also provided him with game-changing data that allowed him to pivot his strategy and react in an agile fashion. Namely, his time north of the wall helped him realize that the White Walkers were the real threat, and that the Night’s Watch would need Wildling help if they want to survive. I guess Jon Snow DID know something, after all!
“Business Intelligence Guidebook: From Data Integration to Analytics” by Rick Sherman
Setting up a business intelligence solution can seem as daunting as defending King’s Landing against a veteran general. That’s why you should read Rick Sherman’s precise, thorough take on BI. He covers everything from justifying a BI solution to your boss (a justification has to be a plan, it can’t just be a pitch) to taking care of data shadow systems (which sound cool, but are actually a nuisance).
Standout review: “This textbook is a rare thing. Not from it’s difficulty in obtaining, or due to the price being well below the norm of $100. What is rare about it is that it actually feels like they are trying to make it for someone who wants to learn the information, rather than simply writing it for a class; that is, it prioritizes learning over merely informing.”
Tyrion isn’t the only character who gets important data from books. You could have an entire episode of Reading Rainbow featuring GoT characters, like Sam Tarly.
Because he reads, Sam is the first to figure out that White Walkers can resurrect the dead (season 1), he knows of a secret entrance in the Wall (season 3), and he gets put in charge of figuring out a way to defeat an army of ice zombies (season 6). That’s a data-driven strategy.
If Stannis the Mannis tells you to read, you read like Westeros depends on it. Mostly because it does.
Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier
Cukier and Mayer-Schönberger’s book is an accessible, educational, and enjoyable look into big data. Their first chapter, in particular, explains the concept better than I thought possible. If you’re interested in the increasing ability of data scientists to take disparate scraps of information and turn it into, say, a $110 million dollar sale to Microsoft, check this one out.
Standout review: “For anyone looking for a great primer on Big Data and the concerns that surround it, this is the book for you. I would highly recommend for business analysts and managers, including c-level execs. Mayer-Schonberger does a great job on identifying the key issues around Big Data and offering his opinion and insights on how we should move forward.”
Big Data @ Work by Thomas H. Davenport
Thomas H. Davenport is a teacher at Babson College, and it shows. “Big Data @ Work” is organized like the syllabus to a course you’d normally pay hundreds of dollars to take. You’ll pay nothing, however, if you’ve got a library card, but you’ll get the same crash course introduction to what big data is and what you need to make it work for you.
Standout review: “This approach is a welcome change in the literature of big data and is especially important to the primary intended audience: business leaders. After defining “big data” and placing it in the context of the analytics field, the focus is how it can be turned into a productive and valuable aspect of your business or organization.”
Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
If you work with BI, you deal with data visualizations. You know more about visualizations than you think you do. Remember pie charts and bar graphs from elementary school? They’re data visualizations. That said, the visualizations in BI are more advanced and more numerous. That’s good news, though, because the right visualization can turn data points into a story that can generate profitable insights. Cole Knaflic’s book on the topic bridges the divide between the story the numbers tell and the story your business needs to succeed.
Standout review: “Cole shows what clear and well-designed visualizations look like, and explains why they’re effective. She also gives sound advice on practices to avoid in most cases, such as pie charts, 3D views and dual axes. She stops a good exit short of Dogmaville, though, explaining that you should be able to give a good explanation why you’re using a challenging chart type if you decide to go that route.”
You know what else reading does in GoT? It sets up the best dramatic exchanges of season 2, between Arya and Tywin. The exchanges between Maisie Williams and Charles Dance are gripping, and they don’t depend on decapitations or nudity. Also, I’d forgotten that Jaime Lannister was dyslexic.
Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Using and Understanding Analytics by Thomas H. Davenport and Jinho Kim
Want to understand data, but not sure how? “Keeping Up with the Quants” is your book. It provides a useful first look at quantitative thinking (hence the “quants”), regardless of your industry.
Standout review: “With data analysis becoming more important in every kind of business and organization (highlighted by Netflix, Amazon, Moneyball, and Nate Silver’s political blog 538 among many others), this book offers timely advice. Keeping Up with the Quants explains the basic groundwork of the types and workings of data analysis. However, you need not be a quant to understand this book. In fact it is geared to non-quants who want to better understand how to work with the number crunchers/analysts.”
Books and reading drive the plot so frequently that I wonder if George R.R. Martin isn’t being purposefully meta in GoT. Or it could just be that people record things in books.
Either way, it’s a book of genealogy that tips Ned Stark off to Joffrey’s real parents:
This is a good example of drill down, too.
Drill down is one of BI’s best features. It’s when you take some general info (sales figures were great in Q4, those Baratheons all tend to have black hair) and dig deeper into specifics (were Q4 sales figures good in the Midwest, why does Joffrey Baratheon not have black hair?).
Drill down gives you a deeper level of knowledge for better, more actionable insights. Ned’s insight, in that case, is that Cersei and Jaime have committed treason. How valuable is that insight? It’s information that gets him killed (that one’s not a spoiler; we’ve passed the statute of limitations when it’s been five years).
Data visualization is quickly becoming a necessary skill, if you’re at the management level. Scott Berinato’s book approaches data visualization in a way that explains its underlying principles and how to make this necessary skill part of your skill set.
Standout review: “You might not expect a book about charts to be full of compelling prose. This one is. “Good Charts” is so much more than a how-to guide— although it’s that, too. Berinato anticipates the dilemmas people face when tasked with visualizing data for their companies, and walks the reader through the process of thinking through these dilemmas in order to create charts that are not only compelling and persuasive, but also fair and sound.”
Books improve you. You know who else improved themselves through reading? Davos Seaworth.
And what was another benefit of reading for Davos? It’s a reading lesson where he comes up with the idea to resuscitate Stannis’ bid for the throne with mad stacks from the Iron Bank of Braavos.
Data Science for Business: What You Need to Know about Data Mining and Data-Analytic Thinking by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett
The data revolution isn’t just about quoting statistics. It’s about thinking in a way that uses data to weigh alternatives and choose best courses. Provost and Fawcett’s book covers real-world instances of businesses that did just that. Their book also encapsulates a MBA-level course they taught for a decade, so, again, if you’ve got a library card, you just saved thousands of dollars on grad school.
Standout review: “This book tells you how to **think** from the angle of data when you make decisions. I have read so many data mining books. They often claim themselves practical simply because they provide examples in addition to the technical details. Well, this statement can be seriously misleading since no one is going to solve the same problem as the one in the book. Without a good explanation on the intuition underlying the technique, it is hard to make true links with examples and eventually even harder, if not possible, to extend what you read to what you need to solve in real applications.”
Big Data in Practice: How 45 Successful Companies Used Big Data Analytics to Deliver Extraordinary Results by Bernard Marr
Marr’s book offers a range of case studies of how vendors as diverse as John Deere and Rolls-Royce used data. Each chapter ends with a “Key Learning Points and Takeaways” section, making the reading experience even easier.
Standout review: “Much of what I know about “big data” and analytics I have learned from Tom Davenport and again I express my deep gratitude to him. In addition, I have read several dozen books by other authors on one or more aspects of one or both subjects and have learned much of value from them, also.”
Like Bernard Marr’s book, “Successful Business Intelligence” reviews case studies of successful BI strategies from companies like Netflix, Dow, and 1-800 Contacts. Howson’s book also provides an overall look at BI and how-to’s for the best practices that get the optimal value from your data.
Standout review: “Cindi is a master in helping the reader and implementer understand where to find and recognize value in deploying Business Intelligence. She is not theoretical, but a pragmatist who cites example after example and has hands-on experience. So many authors talk about the subject and quote others, but Cindi’s knowledge is experiential and based on exposure to products and use cases.”
Too Big to Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data by Phil Simon
The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) means there is now data about pretty much everything. Phil Simon’s “Too Big to Ignore” assesses the situation, and provides case studies of businesses who have made that data into profit. Do your eyes glaze over when you see words like “Hadoop” and “NoSQL?” Give “Too Big” a chance, and weird concepts like those will be comprehensible.
Standout review: “In Too Big to Ignore, author Phil Simon examines what Big Data is (and is not), commonly used techniques for analyzing Big Data (statistical methodologies, data visualization, automation, semantics, and predictive analytics), and how companies are putting this data to use. The book also looks at a few of the data companies that are doing this work and points out that not all the models require Fortune-500-sized budgets. Finally, the book looks at both the challenges and potential of Big Data.”
The night is dark and full of terrors
But, hopefully, the comments section isn’t! I know I must have missed some GoT book-related scenes. Post them in the comments below. Just don’t react like Melisandre if you think I missed something important.
Better yet, if you know of business intelligence connections with GoT, plug those in below, too.
Even better yet, if you love your BI software like Daenerys loves her dragon babies, head over to the BI directory and write a review of your software.