The Full Promise of Business Intelligence

There continues to be palpable confusion in the business intelligence market today as more vendors join the fray. That makes it easy to lose sight of what matters: the core attributes of rock-solid BI that turns business questions into definitive, actionable answers and that helps contribute to a closed-loop performance management system. To deliver true business intelligence, an effective BI foundation must possess several primary characteristics and acknowledge the realities of today's corporate IT environment:
  • Open Data Access--No business keeps all of its data in a single format. Multiple vendors, formats, and standards are a fact of life for enterprise IT. BI needs to access lots of different, heterogeneous data sets. An uncompromising level of openness is required so analyses account for all relevant information and you leverage existing platform investments.
  • Enterprise Scalability--Real BI isn't confined to a single platform -- it stretches across almost every area and touches almost every professional in the company. At the server end, customers need a solution to support Windows, Unix, and Linux platforms in any combination. From a user perspective, the solution must support everything from traditional PC users to zero-footprint remote users, to mobile-device users.
  • More Than a Pretty Interface--While personal-productivity applications (e.g. spreadsheets) have undeniable value as a power-user's window into centrally controlled, secure corporate data, BI requires a much richer set of user capabilities than these tools can provide alone. Companies don't want to be dependent on database and office productivity infrastructure for their corporate intelligence nor locked into a single vendor for such a critical service. Businesses best-in-class tools devoted to a complete range of BI functions including reporting, analysis, dashboarding, scorecarding and business event monitoring. The ability to "author once and deploy anywhere" is also important. Modern, world-class organizations need to be able to access and read the same BI report on the Web, as a PDF, within a Microsoft Office application, through Search and on mobile devices.
  • An Effective Approach--Services-oriented architectures (SOA) are a crucial component when providing organizations with an effective architecture to meet their evolving BI needs within an efficient, enterprise-wide IT strategy. By embracing SOA, an enterprise will be utilizing all aspects of its BI platform -- creating a more complete approach to accessing information.
  • A Way to Reach All Users--Everyone across organization can use the same information to promote more effective collaboration, but different users have different needs:
    • consumers: The majority of enterprise users. They want access to regular reports with clear data in a secure and simple interface
    • executives: Need at-a-glance awareness of the organization's health with regular updates and status alerts that are accessible from the traditional bricks and mortar office or from the road.
    • business managers: Represent about 25 percent of BI users and present a wider range of needs: drillable business information to see the detail and contact, basic BI authoring, and occasional ad hoc queries.
    • business/financial analysts: Work regularly in Excel under tight time pressures to create ad-hoc analysis and reports that access multiple data sources. They benefit from a live data connection that allows them to independently solve business problems using trusted BI content, and other data sources, in Excel.
    • professional authors: Need sophisticated tools that provide high-volume BI distribution, access to a complete range of data sources, BI elements, and report types.
    It's critical to recognize these distinctions and respond with appropriate BI solutions.
  • Uncompromising Security--Fundamentally, BI is about providing information access for improved decision-making, yet the more information organizations deliver to their employees and partners, the greater the rise in security concerns. BI security needs to be more than a checklist item for organizations. Key security features every organization should include address a range of critical issues such as authentication, access control, data-level access rights, application firewall and encryption capabilities. With a strong security foundation in place, organizations can truly focus on successfully building out their enterprisewide BI strategy.
  • Innovation--A strong BI foundation is "open" to innovative investments up and down the stack to make it simple to deliver continued BI breakthroughs to all types of users via appliances, operational dashboards, mobile devices, location intelligence or integration with search technologies and social networking trends.
Ultimately, BI should be a multifaceted foundation for understanding the many diverse aspects of the enterprise. It should seamlessly integrate with enterprise planning and financial consolidation capabilities to help you understand what is happening, why it's happening, and what should happen by connecting reporting and analysis with forecasts, metrics, targets, actuals, and underlying factors. Only by meeting the above requirements can you start to truly reap the full value of business intelligence, improve decision-making across the enterprise and turn information into competitive advantage. About the Author
Leah MacMillan, vice president of business intelligence product marketing for Cognos (a unit of IBM), drives the global, go-to-market strategy for the company's business intelligence solutions.
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