BI vendors leverage end-users

Vendors in the BI (business intelligence) arena are maneuvering to empower end-users with the ability to customize analytic applications in an effort to meet evolving business needs.

To that end, companies such as Spotfire Inc., Business Objects SA, and QlikTech have been ramping up new products, features, and functionalities that leverage the end-user – as opposed to pricey consultants – for the tailoring of apps.

The products are designed to bring BI to the masses by allowing more users to access the analytic applications derived from transactional data in back-end systems. That way, end-users won’t have to wait for IT to build and then subsequently alter a data warehouse as conditions change.

Spotfire, for example, will roll out a new release of its DecisionSite analytics platform this week. Designed to put application development in users’ hands, it arms them with tools to generate interactive analytic applications driven by business processes. The user-generated apps are ready for deployment across an enterprise without requiring additional development work, said David Butler, vice-president of product strategy and marketing at Somerville, Mass.-based Spotfire.

DecisionSite’s Analysis Builder allows users to create guided analytical processes by capturing actions and business processes, building guides, and organizing them to be reused throughout the enterprise.

“The problem is (that) traditionally the end-users in these departments know these processes better than anybody as far as how they want to analyze data. (But) when they need to get more results, they have to go to IT to build another warehouse,” Butler said. “Analysis Builder puts right in the end-user’s hands the capability to take a process they know and create a guided analytic workflow for that process. Users have a lot of control over what they can analyze themselves.”

With Analysis Builder, users take their intimate knowledge of processes to help customize analytic applications, with such details as the flavor of the interface and the workflow rules. This will surely prove helpful to companies that typically spend a lot of money to customize even packaged analytics, said Henry Morris, an analyst at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based research company.

“I don’t think you are ever going to see users building enterprise applications, but it’s this customization and extension of apps – to the extent you can put that in the hands of business users – (that) is a good thing,” Morris said. “For some of these process changes, that is important.”

BI vendor Business Objects recently announced the general availability of the newest iteration of its integrated BI suite dubbed Enterprise 6. The suite consists of enterprise analytic applications, a BI platform, and data-integration products designed to provide a single integrated BI environment for all users.

Version 6 of the suite features a Web-based BI tool that allows users to create, edit, and analyze reports over the Web, thereby granting users outside the organization access to information via extranets.

Owens & Minor, which distributes medical and surgical supplies, has been beta-testing Enterprise 6. The company plans to use the suite to give its customers and suppliers flexibility in creating their reports to send to Owens & Minor warehouses, said Don Stoller, director of information management at the Richmond, Va.-based company.

“It provides a strong BI extranet capability for Owens & Minor to be able to offer to (its) customers,” Stoller said. “It will give (customers) more capabilities in creating their reports, (such as) adding variables to their documents and being able to easily download to an Excel spreadsheet or a PDF.”

Owens & Minor predicts that within two years of implementation, Enterprise 6 will help the company triple the number of end-users who access the company’s extranet.

Meanwhile, BI vendor QlikTech unveiled the newest version of its BI software suite last month. It features a new intuitive and interactive user interface that allows users to more easily manipulate analytic applications.

QlikTech’s architecture eliminates the need to build data warehouses, data marts, or OLAP cubes. This allows users to analyze data from multiple sources, according to company officials. Powered by its proprietary AQL (Associative Query Logic), the technology’s user interface is designed to easily integrate with many data sources, including SQL, Excel, flat files, and XML to display data interactively.

“It is important to make BI such a transparent utility that it works for power users and executives down to the guy on the loading dock that is trying to find out which truck to load,” said Christer Berg, president and CEO of QlikTech in Raleigh, N.C.

“It’s very easy for an end-user to ask the most unexpected questions … that would be impossible for a business analyst or an application developer to have foreseen,” Berg said. “A user can easily build a new tab with a new view into the data cloud without having to re-engineer the data structure.”

Supporting this type of customization can prove advantageous for enterprises that buy packaged analytics, said Wayne Eckerson, research director at The Data Warehousing Institute in Seattle.

“One-third of companies buy packaged analytic apps, while others are building from best of breed,” Eckerson said. “Most of them prefer to buy if they can, (but) most can’t find an app yet that really suits their needs. Or they can find one that is close, but they will have to spend a lot of time customizing it.”

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