Ongoing Demand for On-Demand BI

CHICAGO -- Users of business intelligence (BI) are more able today to take action on information in real or near-real time than ever before, thanks to the availability of BI on more front-end applications without the need to resort to the more traditional -- and more-cumbersome -- query-and-report process, according to experts who discussed the phenomenon with destinationCRM.com at The Data Warehousing Institute World Conference here this week.

The most recent trend in BI is the ability for nontechnical users of data to be able to have access to actionable information without the need to go through the complexities of the query process, says Randy Lea, vice president of products and services for Teradata. "There is increasing importance of having real-time information," he says.

As a result, he adds, BI is moving from the strategic side of the enterprise -- which focuses on financial performance, costs, customer profitability, and similar corporate analytics -- to operational intelligence, which focuses on such transactional information as whether to give a customer a discount or whether a new promotion is driving sales in the current day. Lea notes that Teradata refers to this operational BI as active enterprise intelligence.

By using capabilities built into Web-based applications, Lea says, operational users are able to rely on active enterprise intelligence to determine in real time whether to offer a discount or what kind of packages to cross-sell, rather than needing to go through the often-arduous process of writing one or more queries and building a report. "Now it's more than just knowledge workers using business intelligence," he says. "Now everyday workers can pick and choose a query tool that presents [BI] for analysis."

"People are expecting better ease of use and business intelligence on demand," agrees John Senor, president and chief operating officer of iWay Software, the data integration subsidiary of Information Builders. Such information enables a credit-card company, for example, to be better able to resolve a customer's disputed charge. These disputes -- which formerly took three or four days to resolve -- can now be handled within minutes, according to Senor.

In general, BI is more widely available throughout the enterprise -- and while the customer, in the end, is the one who truly benefits, the corporate impact remains clear. "As companies compete, one of the major differentiators is customer service," Senor says, citing as an example Bell Canada, which can now set up billing, provisioning, customer service, sales information -- and all of the other attributes necessary to have a phone operational -- within two minutes after purchase.

By provisioning everything a customer needs quickly, the enterprise -- especially in a highly competitive business such as telecommunications sales -- prevents the customer from going to a competitor, Senor says. Another trend that Senor sees starting to take hold is the simplification of data-gathering, which occurs in the technology layer before analysis. He cites one investment company, for example, where just a half-dozen people prepare reports but hundreds of employees gather, cleanse, verify, and otherwise handle data for those reports. By integrating BI and other information-management technology, the data-gathering could be accomplished by a staff just one-fifth its current size.

BI users are also simplifying their BI infrastructures, says John O'Brien, chief technical officer for Dataupia, a company that launched its data warehouse appliance at the same conference a year ago. Firms are looking at data appliances and other systems that are less costly to power and to cool than older systems. O'Brien pointed to the "green" initiatives of HP, Sun Microsystems, and similar high-tech firms. Much of those initiatives are aimed at sharply reducing power and cooling costs, he said.

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