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It took four years for Andrew Woje-Wodka to figure out how to make business intelligence matter to the business side at Del Monte Foods Co. Wojewodka, director of business systems and decision support services at the $2.9 billion, San Francisco-based food giant, had been using software from Cognos Inc. to report on matters such as the fill-rate, an important measure of how the company was filling customer orders.
"We were giving them these pretty dashboards with fill-rate by product or geography or customer, but it was just wasn't being adopted well" by business users, Wojewodka says. He finally realized the dashboards weren't telling business users why fill-rates were what they were. There was no way to tell if a fill-rate target was missed due to bad forecasting, issues with Del Monte's distribution channels, or some other factor. So he started using analytics tools from Cognos to present potential causes. That got the business side's attention.
"It was like the light bulbs went off," he says. Now, Del Monte can't seem to get enough BI data. In the last year, Wojewodka's 24-person department has seen BI project requests jump from 109 to 131despite finishing 62 such projects and merging 13 others. BI projects are tracking, for example, whether customer service is improving, whether inventory stocking is meeting its targets, and whether top-line and bottom-line growth is where Del Monte wants it to be.
Del Monte isn't alone in its desire for business intelligence tools, software that helps companies track their performance and their relationship with customers. The Society for Information Management placed BI third as most important technology of 2006. And recent CIO Insight research found that CIOs said the two technologies that will make the most significant contribution to corporate strategies this year are business intelligence/data mining, and an offshoot of BI called business process management.
Gerard McCartney, acting CIO of Purdue University, says that business intelligence tools are on the rise because the software is maturing.
"A lot of dashboards in the 1990s were just kind of gimmicks," he says. But more important, BI is ascending because businesspeople finally understand it. "Executives have become a lot more sophisticated about data, and what it means, and I think for the first time they're really realizing that they have to have [BI]," he says.
The market numbers back up McCartney: IDC projects 10 percent annual growth for BI software sales through the rest of the decade, taking the market from $1.7 billion in sales in 2005 to $2.7 billion in 2010. IDC analyst Dan Vesset agrees that, at this point, every large company uses business intelligence software.
But as companies further embrace business intelligence, they will run into a host of challenges: ensuring data quality, defining how and what data should be measured, and putting BI tools into the hands of a wide range of users.