Business Intelligence Is Mission-Critical, for CRM and Others

CHICAGO -- Business intelligence (BI) has evolved from a technology that's merely "a nice addition" to one that has become mainstream -- and even essential, according to speakers at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit here today. "Business intelligence has become truly mission-critical for companies to compete in a worldwide environment," according to Rod Walker, vice president for information management for HP consulting and information management.

BI exists to fuel business strategy, according to a presentation by Bill Hostmann, Gartner research vice president and distinguished analyst, who recommended that companies establish BI competency centers to ensure the technology is embedded in business processes. "Align BI efforts with critical business initiatives," Hostmann told the audience, recommending that enterprises turn to system integrators to help fill gaps in resources and capabilities while expanding BI across the organization.

And BI will continue to expand, presenters told summit attendees. As that continues, there are many other trends in the industry that enterprises should recognize, Walker said. While three of the major BI specialists -- Business Objects, Hyperion Solutions, and Cognos -- were acquired last year (by SAP, Oracle, and IBM, respectively), more entrants are likely to come into the field to provide pure-play BI solutions. Those three acquisitions merely prove that BI has "arrived" as a must-have technology, Walker told attendees.

Though the idea of one version of the truth has been around for a long time in BI, the idea had been typically limited to a single department or division within a company, Walker said. With the growing onset of pervasive BI, one version of the truth is evolving into "one version of the truth for everyone."

Walker cited a recent Gartner report on operational analytics that predicted that by 2009, 90 percent of mission-critical projects will depend on data warehouse information to drive higher revenues or lower costs. In 2007, by contrast, only 25 percent of these projects were dependent on data warehouse information.

"Analytics are becoming mainstream as companies are linking together CRM, ERP, and supply chain management systems," Walker added. "Companies are using real-time information to make decisions [on] process, production, and pricing."

Unstructured data -- from email, blogs, and other sources -- is becoming more important in the effort to craft a complete view of the customer in a Web 2.0 environment, Walker said. Changes in regulatory and e-discovery rules are also increasing the focus on unstructured data, which companies need to be able to link to structured data for comprehensive analytics.

In the face of increasing dependence on data to drive business decisions, there's a growing focus on making sure that data isn't flawed. "Data quality is becoming part of the business agenda," Walker said. "Usually the people who are the most concerned about data quality are the people who are collecting the data."

As a result, he added, technology projects focusing on data quality are becoming more commonplace. With emerging BI appliances and solutions able to gather and analyze data across the entire enterprise, there is a growing need for BI talent within organizations -- people who understand both the business and the technical sides of the applications and operations, Walker said.

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