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Are you BI Lingual or Just BI Curious?

Written By: Lynne Brash
Published On: June 2 2008

Lost in Translation
If your organization was a celebutante, who would it be? Well, comely or not, let’s hope that when it comes to BI, you’re not a bemused, glassy-eyed Scarlett Johansson à la Lost in Translation http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0335266. If so, there’s a cure and it’s not acting lessons.
It’s a lesson in collaboration; ensuring that both your IT and business teams are speaking the same language so that technology is aligned with your core objectives, versus a “smile and nod” approach to organizational change and growth via BI. And oh, what a lot of complicated language to describe all things business intelligence. Terminology abounds: dashboards, data marts, data integration, data architecture, enterprise analytics, enterprise architecture, master data management, data governance, blah blah blah.
But wading through the jargon and the necessary complexities can be daunting.

So, how can mid-market companies put the obvious benefits of BI to good use? One way is to make sure all stakeholders are speaking the same language when looking at a BI selection or implementation.

BI is soooo hot right now
Organizations are using BI to help drive team collaboration, and make better decisions faster in real or near real-time. Software as a service (SaaS) and other web enabled tools are allowing companies to employ BI to empower, not perplex, and to meet customer needs more intuitively. But it still takes strategy and internal collaboration with IT to align BI usage with key business objectives.

No doubt about it, BI is a hot commodity at the moment – it’s the highest spending focus for CIOs currently (Robert Abate, “The Convergence of SOA and BI”, course at TDWI, Chicago, May 11, 2008).
BI contains the promise of overall enterprise visibility and optimization; the leveraging of key data within your ERP, CRM and SCM systems, improved reporting, analysis and compliance capabilities, better collaboration, sharing, and training opportunities across the organization, and more responsive customer service.
But putting BI to good use is the challenge.

During my press room interviews at the TDWI World Conference in Chicago in May (next one up – TDWI’s BI Symposium in Toronto - http://www.tdwi.org/Education/Bisymposium/index.aspx), I had a chance to talk to Robert Abate, Bruce Moore, and Richard Skriletz, principals at RCGIT (http://www.rcgit.com), about the opportunities and challenges of BI, especially for the mid-market.
Each raised the issue of “blue printing”. This involves creating a framework for communication - an enterprise architecture - to support change, making sure that IT and business are aligned around common objectives, based on an agreed-to set of criteria and terminology, so that technology supports business goals. Chances for success are five times greater for BI initiatives when project teams involve IT who are “’very aligned’ with the business”, according to The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) (Bair, J., S. Fox, M. Hunt, and D. Meers, "Aligning BI with Business Strategy: How a
Mission Mapped Architecture can help ", DSSResources.COM, 09/10/2005.
)

But the dreaded “R” word – recession - emerges and begs the question – is this the right economy for BI?
Robert Abate asserts that BI has long term value that should be considered. His suggested “tools for hard times” include putting to use
1) data governance to optimize investments &
2) strategic planning/project mgmt to mitigate risks, and make wise selections.
And again, he talks of the need for a common vocabulary, for “semantic consistency”; an agreed upon language for IT and business to build on.

But Bruce Moore at RCGIT (educator/presenter of “Business Architecture: Governance Through Formal Techniques”, TDWI World Conference, May 12, 2008) wisely cautions against a tendency to “focus on the widgets and lose focus on direction”.
He suggests this Project Health Check:

  • Does this technology align with our business objectives?

  • Does it make better decisions faster?

  • And are the benefits being properly measured; are metrics tied to key business processes?


When combined with a project plan tied to strategic business objectives, BI can provide SMBs and any organization with an enterprise view of data delivery, and the means to run your business more efficiently, and service your customers more efficiently and ergo, making you more competitive.

Parlez-vous BI?
Besides project collaboration, what collaborative tools does BI offer? The trend towards enabling all users within the organization (ie. BI for the Masses) to make use of BI without necessarily engaging IT every step of the way is tied to the new social media tools that are emerging. Modern, mobile, interactive and end user-empowered markets dictate it, and the need for BI to be demystified comes in to play as BI vendors move to address the needs of the burgeoning mid-market segment.
(examples - http://www.informationweek.com/news/software/enterpriseapps/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=199902740/
http://www.destinationcrm.com/Articles/PrintArticle.aspx?ArticleID=44132...)


Russell Cooper, TEC’s resident BI analyst, is currently working on a State of the Market report to help decision makers navigate the new world of collaborative BI or BI 2.0, if you will. He’ll be looking at how vendors are embracing web 2.0 technologies (look for an announcement this week from Information Builders www.informationbuilders.com on a new product with an “intelligent search index” and the latest “mash-up convergences”) from report personalization and sharing, to mashups and customer feedback tools, and how these social media concepts may open new doors for companies ready to embrace the new, seemingly more open reality of BI.

So how user friendly is this stuff? How do the recent acquisitions and mergers in BI (IBM-Cognos (www.cognos.com), SAP-Business Objects (www.businessobjects.com), Oracle-Hyperion http://www.oracle.com/hyperion/index.html to name a few) affect the quality of solutions available and how well are vendors addressing the SMB/mid-market audience? Stay tuned to find out …Watch this space for an update on the upcoming report, and more BI posts from our subject matter experts and partners.
 
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