Big Blue BI For the Rest of Us?
IBM today unveiled WebSphere Content Discovery, a new BI and data search application that combs through structured and unstructured information for the enterprise. The software links search functionality to BI and data analytics tools and is meant to overcome the limitations of BI products that can only analyze and report on structured data stored in databases, according to IBM.
The company says its product goes much deeper than similar search applications recently launched from BI firms like Information Builders, Cognos, and SAS Institute, even though they all share the common goal of making data and BI available to a broader set of end users.
WebSphere Content Discovery will allow users to access and analyze a broader range of data using a friendly search paradigm. Traditionally, structured and unstructured data have been managed and analyzed separately, says Marc Andrews, director of strategy and business development for content discovery at IBM. "Nobody wants to use one application to search for BI reports, and a different one to search for other documents. Rather, companies are looking for an ability to directly navigate their BI data from their search application and also integrate unstructured information."
There are three facets to the new system, according to Andrews. First, Content Discovery builds on capabilities that IBM introduced in November 2005 to extract knowledge from unstructured information in a tighter format so that it can be leveraged by BI systems. As an example, Content Discovery can search across text documents, comment fields in business applications, Web pages on corporate Internets, and audio and video files. CSRs could use Content Discovery to extract data from call center and warranty notes, according to Andrews, then enter the data into an analytics solution to draw up new reports.
The second facet is the ability to index BI reports and scorecards in the search engine alongside other unstructured content, which can all be fed into dashboards, scorecards, and reports. This, Andrews admits, is very similar to what other BI vendors already offer in their search solutions.
Third, and perhaps the most differentiating element of Content Discovery, is enabling search against underlying BI data at the source, not just data that has been generated in a BI report. "We're providing more ad hoc access and navigation for end users, letting them drill down and drill across different dimensions using a friendly search interface." This lets end users customize the applications themselves, as opposed to having the enterprise's IT department come up with customized reports. The solution comes integrated out-of-the-box to Cognos 8 BI platform, though IBM has stated it is planning to integrate with other BI vendors, such as Business Objects.
This announcement, in conjunction with similar announcements by Cognos and SAS, are evidence of the continuing trend to simplify and extend BI to a broader range of end users, according to Jim Murphy, research director at AMR Research. "You're seeing the convergence of search and BI. It's a matter of finding the right report or data set from all the others you can extract from a BI solution." This BI trend, Murphy continues, is also representative of the CRM industry in general. "The failure of a lot of enterprise systems is a lack of end user adoption, particularly within the CRM segment. These applications haven't had the reputation of being user-friendly. Search access to these applications is helping to mitigate that."
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