Business intelligence is growing up

Business Intelligence (BI) is baby-stepping its way to maturity and several vendors are eager to see where it will lead the enterprise.

The software itself is not actually all that young, but the tools and the market are just now blossoming, even while under the weight of a sluggish economy. Michael Corcoran, vice-president and chief communications officer for New York-based IBI, said one of the main reasons for all the activity in this market is that it is one of the few with projected growth.

Cameron Dow, senior marketing strategist for SAS Canada in Toronto, said the “hot” applications of yesteryear have led to a surge in BI implementations.

“In the last five to seven years organizations were investing in support systems, accounting systems, HR systems, operational systems. Once that investment wave peaked, organizations were left wondering what to do to create new efficiencies,” Dow said.

Enterprises need to take the information being delivered from these operational systems and do something with it. Dow noted that another driver for BI is the flat economy. “In Canada it’s not going to get any worse, but it’s not going to get any better right now either. Organizations need to focus on, ‘How can I use IT efficiently?’ But they can’t wait a year to implement.

“BI is a way to get in quick ROI.”

BI can potentially touch on a lot of high return on investment areas, Corcoran said. “There’s a lot of interest in helping identify where we’re spending too much money, places we could potentially cut costs and streamlining processes.”

Organizations need to be looking at BI as a way to get more information out of their data in a way that will either save money or generate revenue. “Right now if you’re in the IT world and you’re working on something that doesn’t do one of those two things for the company’s bottom line, you’re going to be in a troubled position in a very short time,” Corcoran said.

Karen Williams, vice-president of products for Ottawa-based Cognos, noted that with the breadth of BI offerings on the market now, customers are able to get good deals on a variety of applications.

Scorecarding is a term that comes up again and again in reference to quantifying ROI. Using metrics and data analysis, companies can track projects as well as employees and resources. Problems can be identified quickly, as can successes – which can then be emulated in other departments.

“I think we’re seeing that business is becoming more strategic,” Williams said. “You need to know if your business is on or off track.”

Analytics can be used to identify which customers are more likely to churn, and in that way companies can be more proactive, Dow said, possibly saving millions.

As the market continues to mature, more emphasis is put on integration. More information will benefit a business, but that information is coming in from disparate systems, Dow said. There is also a lot of R&D money being spent on data-integration technology.

IBI has been trying to make its tools more accessible to every user, something SAP, SAS, Cognos and other vendors are also working on. Corcoran said that race is on for the product with the greatest enterprise level usability, “for all the individuals throughout the enterprise, and even people outside the firewall.”

John Vlery, product manager for SAP in New Hampshire, said BI is no longer just for power users and analysts. “Everyone needs those information assets and they need an interface they can use.”

Darren Massel, product manager SQL Server for Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada, said business intelligence needs to be at a level where everyone is comfortable working with it. “Every bit of information the user can get will allow them to do a better job.”

Dow agreed, saying BI now needs to be a business application that is point and click, and that allows people to understand strategy. It must also allow managers to see where that information and analysis might be breaking down, he said.

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