Ethics in Business Intelligence


The type of ethics in business intelligence (BI) is the ethical principles of conduct that govern an individual in the workplace or a company in general.

It is also known as professional ethics and not to be confused with other forms of philosophical ethics including religious conviction, or popular conviction. Professional ethics according to Griffin (1986) is that profit is not the only important strategy of a business anymore. There is also more of a concern and motivator of companies to do what is right.

Companies must acknowledge that they have a common good to protect there local community, improve employee relations and promote informational press to the public. While back in 1986, Griffin was directing his argument towards ethics in accounting but it is also true today in Business Intelligence. Government regulations are not changing fast enough to cover all the changes in technology that bombards users on day to day bases. It is up to corporations to create a code of ethics, and to persistently be receptive to the needs of the public being served.

Everyday in BI management professionals may be at risk of making unethical practices in there decisions that regards the consumer, business and/or other employees data. Ethics is a touchy subject, there is always going to be controversy on how companies choose to handle business decisions. There is no definite decision to make when it comes to ethical decisions. While sometimes it may involve illegal practices, other times it is just a decision that needs to be made in a company to promote a better way of life for all.

An example of an ethical decision:

A manager of a BI system that chooses to use cheaper data in his/her data mining activities to save money. The data he/she chooses to implement involves personal credit score reports. The cheaper data sets have a 20% possibility of being incorrect. The manager did not see it as being an unethical decision when it was made, just a way to continue to generate close-to-accurate reports and save money.

The impacting decision on 20% of the company’s customers may have different results as more people are turned down for credit because inaccurate reports. It is not a crime to have implemented the inaccurate data sets but it may seem as an unethical practice to others.

While it is important for managers to be able to make their own decisions, this example decision being made should have involved more managers since it affected the whole business.

The manager’s choice could bankrupt the company as user start to leave their business for more accurate competitive companies. As the example points out, sometimes there is no really clear answer to wither an issue involves an ethical or legal choice and each situation can be different. Trying to make decisions based on individuals’ beliefs when dealing with a company can amount to intellectual stalls and trying to come to a decision can be expensive and time consuming.

 Business Globalization

Today’s society has come to the point where there are more solutions to problems than ever before. What once was impossible can now be accomplished through the use of BI and other technology similar to BI. It is not going to stop; technology is going to keep advancing. What seems improbable now may be common in the near future.

Because of business globalization, there is also a larger separation between companies and customers, companies and competitors than there was when everything was done locally in the past. Larger separation between companies and the consumer has resulted in unethical and sometimes illegal business decisions like data theft. Because of all the technology used in big businesses, and resulting exposure to unethical practices by some of the larger corporations like Enron, there is growing anxiety of large companies to be free of unethical practices.

Additionally the general trust level of users has eroded to the point were trust really has to be earned. Users are very aware of cases of identity information being lost to theft as well as other case examples in the media. Users have taken up with the attitude of show me or prove to me that they are safe, that there information is safe or they will not do business.

IT Personnel in Ethics

It is so easy for BI managers to sit behind there desk and manage the data on a day to day business thinking that ethical practices do not concern them. That is not the correct attitude to have. Everyone employed in the information technology field has an obligation to be part of company ethical policies and practices. It is not just about creating schemas and data models, as IT managers they have more of an ethical decision to make than there employers.

The BI manager knows more about the emerging technology, and has the best knowledge of a company’s technologies capabilities of what is possible. With all the work that is done in an informational system and what is involved in information delivery and business ethical dilemmas.

Code of Ethics

Every technologically backed association deals with ethical issues in their own way. The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has set some great code of ethics including:

“Computing professionals have a responsibility to share technical knowledge with the public by encouraging understanding of computing, including the impacts of computer systems and their limitations. This imperative implies an obligation to counter any false views related to computing” (ACM, 1992, para. 3).

While most of the code of ethics covers general ethical issues, it also cover leadership and other professional responsibility in information technology and is worth looking up.

PAPA Framework

PAPA is an acronym for privacy, accuracy, property, and accessibility. A framework proposed by Richard Mason as the four ethical issues of the information age.

He proposed this framework 25 years ago in 1986. To date it is still acknowledge as the four subjects of ethics in information technology and covers ethics in BI as more and more data is extracted, transformed and loaded into data warehouse silos.

A lot of are private information is handle with BI in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems like Amazons customer web portal. While Amazon is making web application business services for users better and geared towards individual use ,it also demands that some of your private information is given in return for the CRM to accurately predict what you may need and want.

Elements of privacy should contain a notice of what data is being collected, how it is being used, a option to participate of not, security measures to protect from data misuse, the ability to access your person information to review and correct and steps are assigned to enforce set policies. On opposing side of privacy is the need to create security, any inadequate security measures can be viewed as carelessness also while the option to participate in the data collection is an option, choosing to not participate usually means that the company will also not provide their services to you.

Accurate Data

Accuracy Data Mining (DM) and BI systems is very costly and the percentage of accurate data is a business decision. Some companies can ethically choose less accurate data and still maintain a competitive edge, and supply the users with their services while other systems like a Hospital Information System (HIS) cannot afford to reduce accuracy when a persons life in hanging on the line. When it comes down to who is responsible for the accuracy of the data, executives may set business processes for guidelines but the main responsibility stills falls to the BI manager to be able to understand their BI database and also for when new data must be integrated. Executives do not care how the analytics works, just that they are presented with accurate reports and/or dashboards.

The whole reliability and integrity of a BI system eventually is placed on the personnel who can transfers the sea of technology used, not the end users. When there is an ethical situation within the company who will be help liable, the executive who did not know the technology or the BI manager in charge of data accuracy?

Accessibility of data in the past was only privileged to a significantly smaller group of user than now. With the technology explosion of BI and web interfaces, anyone with a smart phone, computer, laptop or PDA can gain access DM information.

The technology gap, also known as the digital divide, is growing smaller.

Information is power, users have a right to be on a level playing field, we have a morale obligation to provide skills to understand and manage, understand, and access information throughout the world so that users are on a level playing field when it comes down to access of data that provides basic survival information, so a larger technology gap is not created based on poverty, sex, age, or race.

While sharing data freely is a goal to help individuals, there is a limit to what can be shared among business partners, customers and competitors yet they should also have the right to come to the same results using technology.

Ethical Issues in BI

While many ethical issue are obscure and hard to notice at the surface there is one a number one concern brought up by most users and according to Hackathorn (2005), the ethical issue in BI that is known by most is the involuntary release of personal information that has lead to identity theft.

The theft of personal information like social security numbers, birth-dates, and credit card numbers has allowed for technology skilled criminals to possibly walk away with billions of dollars in innocent victims’ money nationally.

Organization Accountability

Organization need to be accountable for financial data. The U.S. has required financial accountability through regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) of 2002. Yet according to Wallice (2011), the main focus of SOX is to measure internal effectiveness of business controls and does not explicitly address IT.

Because of the lack of security for IT in SOX, ISO 17700, the International Standard for the Code and Practice for Informational Security Management is being executed by companies as a framework for maintaining informational security to protect information systems from unauthorized admission, usage, modification, and destruction.

Government Use

The pressing issue of homeland security and the U.S. patriot Act after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, left the Government with a strong ability to analyze anyone in the United States as a threat by collecting almost any type of data that they wish including financial activities and how they may be related to terrorism.

Technology is being implemented at airports in order to fight terrorism. The Transport Security Administration (TSA), according to Worthen (2006), is continuously conducting test with different data mining techniques in order to find the most effective way of weeding out terrorist so that they never gain access to be airlines again. The lack of an almost never ending budget and a lack of a well defined scope allow the TSA to try newer technologies in the name of security, compared to other sectors of business. After 9/11 the Computer Automated Passenger Pre-screening (CAPPS) system that used consumers’, names, credit card information, and address to screen for criminals was change to CAPPS II. CAPPS II combined previous technology of its predecessor with information purchased from data stores run by ChoicePoint and LexisNexis.  CAPPS was eventually replaced with a newer system called Secure Flight that shares the same process of combining passenger data with information purchased from commercial data providers. Over $125 million has been spent in the name of homeland security just in the first 5 years after 9/11.

Framework for Solving Ethical Dilemmas

The ability to solve any ethical problem is to first be aware that there is an ethical situation.

Try to be open and honest about the situation while at the same time you need to avoid discussions that could magnify the problem.

Try to make the subject of ethics in the work place an acceptable activity.

The next step is to thoroughly research the ethical problem and at the same time stay focused on the problem at hand and not try to solve the greater issues, if it is necessary for a person to solve the greater ethical issues that do not impact the company then it should be done on their own personal time. Once all research has been done on the subject and you are able to gain a better understanding to the root of the problem you need to come to a decision on what should be done to fix the ethical problem.

Once you have made the proper decision make sure that it is properly documented for you and future employees can learn from it. Solving ethical solutions is the same as solving any decision making process effectively and can be broken down into 6 simple steps: Identify the decision, get the facts, develop alternatives, rate each alternative, make the decision and implement the decision. Make sure to be clear about your actions, if you cannot come to a valuable solution on your own consider hiring someone who can.

Benefits of Ethics in IT

Employers may see that:

“Although data are mixed, numerous studies in the field of computer ethics support the hypothesis that a written and clearly transmitted code of ethics is a strong influence on employee behavior when an ethical decision is involved” (Computer Ethics, n.d.).

Companies that can change there thinking to become more ethical will also beat government regulations while implementing ethical solutions at the companies own affordable base without having to hurry up and match such regulations and will save themselves from the costs of future fines and fees for data misuses in their BI system.

If a company is well know for being able to protect the companies BI systems not only from security hacks but also from unethical practices, that company will most likely have the competitive advantage over their rivals and companies can align the business processes of their BI better to cover the broader strategy.

The main reason is to gain trust of your products and services and the ability to get a good night sleep knowing you have not cause financial or emotional harm to others.



Governments cannot change laws fast enough to protect ethical problems that are arising from new technology.

It is in the best interest of companies to be proactive when dealing with ethical situations within there companies IT department.

IT personnel do have a role to play in keeping BI systems protected and ethical.

IT personnel know the system better than anyone else in the organization and have a responsibility to help keep the data safe.

A good guideline to follow when covering ethics in data is PAPA and while you may not want to discuss ethics, a company can benefit from being ethical and choices should be made, doing nothing is always a choice but it is a poor choice when the stack of a company’s reputation is on the line.


ACM Council. (October, 1992). Code of Ethics. In Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved April, 2011, from

Computer Ethics – Computer Ethics In The Workplace – Ethical, Companies, Company, Organizations, Norms, and Employees, (n.d.). retrieved April 25, 2011, from

Griffin, Charles H.. (1962). The Practical Philosophy of Prefessional Ethics. Journal of Accountancy (pre-1986), 113(000005), 92.  Retrieved April 24, 2011, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 83270709).

Hackathorn, Richard. (August 2003). Ethics of Business Intelligence: A Practical Treatment Retrieved April, 2011, from

Hackathorn, Richard. (September 2005). Ethics in business intelligence. In Bolder. Retrieved April, 2011, from

Peslak, Alan R.. (2006). PAPA REVISITED: A CURRENT EMPIRICAL STUDY OF THE MASON FRAMEWORK. The Journal of Computer Information Systems, 46(3), 117-123.  Retrieved April 25, 2011, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1038730691).

Wallace, L., Lin, H., & Cefaratti, M.. (2011). Information Security and Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Information Systems, 25(1), 185-211.  Retrieved April 25, 2011, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 2298740021).

About Adam M. Erickson

Geek, Dad, Life-Student, Biker & DIY Enthusiast Application Developer Attended Ferris State University Lives in Muskegon, MI
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3 Responses to Ethics in Business Intelligence

  1. Alain Volz says:

    May I ask why you are using a slide from Dr. Don Beck without referring to it? How familiar are you with the Social Technology behind it? I don’t see any link between the inage and the writing.

    • Hello Alain,

      I just searched for a free to use image on google. Something to plug into the webpage. The article itself is not linked to the image. I created the article for an assigment a long time agaon and pretty much just copied and pasted the article into a wordpress blog.

      All citations in the article shoue be acurate since that is what I was being gradded on.

      Best regards,


  2. Shawana Hoopii says:

    The general meaning of ethics: rational, optimal (regarded as the best solution of the given options) and appropriate decision brought on the basis of common sense. This does not exclude the possibility of destruction if it is necessary and if it does not take place as the result of intentional malice.`’

    My favorite web site

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