Spreading IQ

By Michael Fitzgerald  |  Posted 01-07-2007 Print Email

Spreading IQ

But as BI becomes firmly established in corporations, CIOs can be faced with a new set of problems involving "systems creep."

BI tools often spread through an organization without much noise. Most come bundled with reporting or analytics tools, staples of business intelligence—IDC tracks six different categories of BI tools and 16 major application areas. "BI just comes with the stack, and there's no negative ROI impact not to use it—it's just kind of there," says David O'Connell, a senior analyst at Nucleus Research in Wellesley, Mass.

While the market's largest players are pure-play companies such as Business Objects S.A., Hyperion Solutions Corp. and Cognos, no one company dominates the BI market. And many kinds of packaged applications have BI tools. CRM applications from Siebel (now part of Oracle Corp.), for instance, include robust business intelligence tools, and rivals have responded in kind—to name just one, there are several dozen BI choices available on Salesforce

.com's AppExchange, a popular library of tools for the CRM package.

As users realize the kinds of questions they can answer with BI tools, they will often start using them on their own. This can be beneficial, in the sense that it can help people work more efficiently, but also potentially negative, in that numbers can be manipulated to skew what's really happening in a business unit. As Woje-wodka says, every department has its own metrics, and what Del Monte's Production Planning Inventory Control defines as acceptable levels of fill-rate may not make customers happy. So a business, instead of getting better intelligence, can run into the "dueling-reports" problem McCartney mentioned, as groups start using their departmental BI tools as weapons in business meetings.

Some CIOs have tried to mandate standard BI tools, usually based on a pure-play product such as SAS or Business Objects. That can help, to a point. But it's almost impossible to keep employees from using departmental tools, and it's probably not advisable, says Mitch Kramer, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group. Kramer says the analytic tools that come with a specific application are often better suited for working with that application than high-level enterprise tools, and businesses need to manage BI on both the operational and strategic level. The CIO can help by organizing rigorous definitions of what should be measured, and by which department.

As BI tools become more accessible in 2007, management challenges will undoubtedly get bigger, too. Vendors are making the tools more accessible, in part by making search tools better. They are including their own search features or adding software from companies such as Google Inc. and Convera Corp., a 20-year old provider of enterprise-oriented search tools, says Mark Smith, CEO of Ventana Research in Menlo Park, Calif. This is to spare BI users from having to know Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) techniques that search through different dimensions of database information, such as product, time of day, place and action (for instance, sale of a unit or shipping of a unit). In addition, better search will continue to be a market driver in 2007, as will the addition of features such as function templates, -preconfigured queries that save users from having to build their own.

Also on tap are ways to make business intelligence tools work better on mobile devices, such as the BlackBerry. This could help extend the BI-user market beyond the business analysts and managers who are its primary users now, and should mean that salespeople, in particular, will have faster access to information they need to sell clients.

And while BI tools typically are used to look at a company's own data, service-oriented architecture, a way of making it easier for applications to exchange data, means that firms can start to get data from third-party suppliers as well, which should help improve business operations.

All of these developments will challenge CIOs, but they also reflect the essence of what a CIO is supposed to do. "If the CIO is going to be a strategic partner in the business, he or she is going to be bringing tools that enable other people to do their jobs in a better and more strategic way," says Purdue's McCartney. "People at companies are smart, but they don't have the information now. BI offers the promise of having a better understanding of what's going on in your industry."



 

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