BI reaches for new users

Business intelligence is expanding beyond traditional users and out into the business, and attendees at Information Builders’ annual Summit user conference in Orlando last month heard how the New York-based BI vendor is looking to ride the so-called operational BI wave.

Analysts, users and vendors alike agreed that a trend toward more people making use of BI tools throughout organizations is occurring. Keith Gile, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, said anyone who makes business decisions is now a potential BI user. Gile added that those users must drive BI adoption, shaping the direction it will take and defining their expectations up front.

With dashboards and more powerful search engines coming online, Gile said a person no longer needs to be a power user to get value from BI. In fact, they don’t even need to know they’re using BI. “They [couldn’t] care less about building queries,” said Gile. “They’ve got to do their jobs and BI had better not get in the way.”

That means a changing role for the IT department. Wayne Eckerson, director of research and services for The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI) in Seattle, said the challenge is to get BI in place and help the business people use it. That will require a new set of skills.

“You need to excel at selling the business value of the solution in ways business people can understand,” said Eckerson. “Tell them how it makes their jobs easier.”

Eckerson said ongoing training needs to be available to users in a variety of mediums, and if adoption starts to lag, a “SWAT team” approach should be used to find out why.

Looking to the future, Eckerson said he sees search as the next big trend, noting that with the increasing use of search engines like Google to find information on the Internet, people are asking why they can’t do the same with their BI suite.

“We’re seeing the Googleization of BI,” said Eckerson. In his keynote presentation, IBI president Gerald Cohen outlined a number of announcements the company has made to meet the shifting BI paradigm.

The company’s iWay software division introduced a number of service-oriented architecture (SOA) middleware tools earlier in the year, moving its focus beyond just adapters to allowing a user to implement a full SOA solution within iWay.

IBI is also working on a June launch for the latest release of its WebFocus BI platform, version 7.6, and Cohen previewed a number of innovations aimed to expand WebFocus use throughout the enterprise.

As more people make use of BI, the strain on IT infrastructure will increase.

To address that, as well as the needs of disconnected users, IBI has released Active Reports.

Available now as an addition to WebFocus 7.1.3, Active Reports embeds an analytical engine into an HTML page or e-mail using Java script, allowing users to sort columns, manipulate data and make charts within a report, without going back to the server.

“It’s for that individual that wants to do a disconnected evaluation of a report and get information to help them run their business,” said Dave Sandel, vice-president of IBI’s BI products group. “We expect that to be a very large market for us.”

The company is also working to drive forward what it calls “process-driven BI” by combining the power of its WebFocus platform with iWay’s SOA middleware tools to more closely marry the worlds of BI and business process management (BPM).

“The industry tends to focus on BI as a discipline of itself, when it really should be starting at the business process,” said Jake Freivald, vice-president, marketing with iWay. “It should be seeing where, inside each business process, we need greater visualization, and where can a business process be adapted as a result of something a business analyst discovered.”

As an example, Freivald described a credit card transaction process, where a business analyst may have created an analytic report that identifies likely fraudulent transactions.

If the BPM tool could be trained to look for the parameters identified in the BI report in real time, those transactions could then be rerouted and the process modified without human intervention.

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