Why the perfect BI tool is still a fairy tale

For business intelligence to truly take off for enterprises, next-generation BI apps will have to be automated, pervasive, and unified, according to a Forrester Research Inc. analyst.

Speaking to IT professionals at this week’s Information Builders Inc. user conference session in Nashville, Tenn., Forrester principal analyst Boris Evelson looked into his crystal ball and outlined his roadmap for BI’s future.

Information Builders is a BI provider that has its sights on delivering BI tools that spread throughout the enterprise to less tech-savvy business users and front-line knowledge workers.

But according to Evelson, every vendor in the BI market still has gaps in delivering BI capabilities that will be needed as the technology practice moves into its next-generation.

“Taking BI to every desktop is going to take a lot more than integrating with Microsoft Office,” he said.

Despite what some vendors might claim, Evelson said, the perfect BI solution exists only in the “land of gingerbread where the rivers of milk and honey flow.” The ideal BI app for most companies would require no set-up, no extract-transform-and-load, and unified data and content on the back-end, with end-user self-service, integrated e-mail capabilities, and a completely automated and intelligence environment for front-end users.

“This is still a fairy tale,” he added.

For this fairy tale to become a reality, vendors will have to address how to provide BI access to all users, make the tools more agile, decrease the user interface complexity and reduce the dependence on IT.

Scott Staples, president and CEO of knowledge services at Indian IT services firm MindTree Ltd., agreed, saying that the tools currently being rolled out by vendors typically work effectively as a primary reporting tool.

“Real ‘business intelligence’ is enabling business users to see data in a new way and providing research and data in a way that makes decision-making easier, faster, and cheaper,” he said. “In that regard, they are a long way off.”

One area where BI vendors are greatly lagging behind is in automation.

“Even in the most well-intentioned BI application, if it doesn’t take the next step, it will not be worthwhile,” Evelson said.

The key is making BI actionable, through taking advantage of predetermined workflows and reusing business processes based on historical and real-time data. “If these actions happen, here’s what the system suggests you do,” Evelson said. “That’s what’s going to make BI pervasive, not integration with Excel,” he added.

This also relates to the need for more context-aware features in BI apps, Evelson said. He compared it to the built-in expertise shopping sites such as Amazon.com utilize, offering a customers a list of related products they might be interested in purchasing.

“Don’t you think it would be nice if you ran a query and the BI application said, ‘Would you like the answer to this question too?’” he asked.

These embedded processes will lead to more automated and pervasive BI tools that will bring true value to front-line workers. The ability to use BI tools offline as well as better integration with Microsoft Outlook, which would allow business users to view their BI dashboards inside the e-mail client, should be high on the priority list for vendors.

“Wouldn’t it be nirvana if you got an e-mail from a customer and everything your BI system knows about the vendor pops up right inside the dashboard beside the message?” Evelson asked.

Lastly, a BI tool that unifies all data sources into a single source was be a vital aspect for BI vendors to consider, he added.

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