The Face of Business Intelligence Now
Business Intelligence today is vastly different than in years past in so many ways, as follows:
- Mergers and acquisitions have dramatically altered the marketplace.
- Economic influences have driven initiatives such as server consolidations and BI tool consolidations.
- BI solutions have emerged as integrated platforms, not loose collections of tools.
- Service providers have offered alternatives (Software as a Service—SaaS) to in-house infrastructure and support.
- Initiatives such as cloud computing have changed the deployment strategies for many.
- Appliances have emerged with "black box" BI solutions.
- Real-time or near real-time BI projects have appeared.
- Increased emphasis has been placed upon the merger of BI and collaboration.
- ...and many more.
At the enterprise level, we see a keen interest in providing a corporate infrastructure for BI solutions that is extensible, cost-effective, secure, highly available, and scalable. BI for the Enterprise is all about having vision and goals to attain that vision. Recent surveys have shown BI to be the top priority of most CIOs—CIO surveys for the past four years have placed BI at the top of the list. I suggest that you use your favorite search engine to query CIO surveys rather than have me cite specific ones. With these surveys suffice it to say, there have been many, and the responses have consistently placed BI and analytics at the top of the list (see Figure 1-1).
Figure 1-1 A typical CIO survey
Why do we find BI to be such a critical initiative after all these years of applying end user-oriented technology to solve business problems? Don't most enterprises have it under control today? The answer is, no.
BI is on the agendas of the majority of CIOs because they have become extremely aware of its importance in providing a competitive differentiator at all levels of the business. They read about some competitor who is using a BI infrastructure to cut costs, improve customer satisfaction, shorten sales cycles, and more. They may have had some success internally with a new BI project and now want more.
Regardless of the vision held, there is an ongoing dilemma with most BI initiatives—effective deployment. As shown in Figure 1-2, there is a definite "gap" in the intended usage of BI technologies and the actual application of them. The casual users are often locked out of participation due to a number of factors, as follows:
- The data provided is too difficult to work with.
- The end user has no time to develop skills other than rudimentary usage.
- The tool provided is too difficult for the user based upon his level of technology skills.
- The business problem faced is too complex for the casual user.
- The software provider has overstated their case for ease of use and deployment.
- The training is inadequate, and there is no support organization, such as a BI competency center.
- All of the above.
Figure 1-2 The BI utilization and uptake gap
As shown in Figure 1-2, there is a wide gap between deployment and usage, with a preponderance of BI usage on the IT and power user end of the chart. The desire by most is to drive the bar to the right. For a vendor, this often translates to trying to make their wares easier. For the organization, it most often translates to thinking, "There has to be something out there that our end users can use more effectively."
Shifts in closing the gap and moving to the right will not occur by maintaining the present course and speed, hoping that momentum will naturally build. Any BI tool has its unique strengths as well as a set of end users who find it to their liking. To assume that others should be able to use a BI tool because a few have taken to it easily is a severe error. "We don't understand why those other folks in sales aren't using our new BI gadget! Why, Ray and Frieda worked with it for a week, and look what they can do now!" There is a natural tendency to cover your struggles on the job when you see others having great success with a new gadget. Allowing users to flounder because they don't quite "get" the tool is inexcusable. I'll cover this more when we discuss the impact of BI on roles within the enterprise.