By Kevin Quinn, Vice President of BI Products and Sales Support Services, Information Builders
While software developers consider their business intelligence (BI) applications
to be successful if they fulfill the core requirements, a much more meaningful
gauge of success is how extensively the information derived from those applications
is used. The more consumers of information you have, the greater the value you
will obtain from your BI efforts.
Many people in your organization can benefit from current analytical information,
whether they work in customer service, shipping, manufacturing, finance, or
a host of other departments. How do you achieve this vision? You have to make
information relevant to the needs of the moment, and you have to present that
information to users in a familiar way.
For example, a call center representative might receive a screen pop advising
her about which products to promote to a customer who is on the line at that
moment, based on that customer's recent transactions and credit history. An
order entry clerk might depend on insight from a BI system to spot orders above
a certain value, then recommend a premium supplier based on current promotions
If these workers have to run historical reports to find this information, it
generally slows down the process, and the opportunity is lost. Instead, the
information should be automatically selected, tailored, and delivered in a usable
form, right then and there. This is the "invisible hand" of BI, working
behind the scenes to keep users in touch with information that impacts their
sphere of activities.
Of course, BI technology must be presented to users in its simplest form in
order to achieve these goals. Most people aren't interested in firing up an
ad-hoc query tool or designing a report to find information, no matter how user-friendly
these tools may be. Instead, they want to receive information as part of their
familiar business processes. That information should be accessible through the
programs they use every day such as e-mail, search engines, write boards, web
browsers, and spreadsheets, not via BI "tools" that are external to
all of them.
Boosting revenue and productivity
Another way to gauge the success of your BI initiatives is the degree to which
those initiatives reduce costs or increase revenue. Some BI applications create
profit centers, as Moneris Solutions learned after amassing billions of Visa,
MasterCard, and debit card transactions in its data warehouse. Moneris created
a BI application that allows merchants to analyze this transaction data to better
understand consumer-buying patterns -- a service those merchants are willing
to pay for.
A third success metric involves using BI to accelerate or streamline business
processes. In this instance, the Invisible Hand guides users to relevant information
as they need it, or simply makes connections as part of an automated workflow.
This is a push-based rather than a pull-based paradigm.
While analytical BI systems are typically initiated by users querying a database
or running a report, process-driven BI systems are triggered by the business
process itself. For example, when an order-entry system receives an order or
a manufacturing process updates a bill of materials, these events might notify
other applications within the enterprise. In some cases, users are asked to
supply input. In other cases it is automatic: the BI application listens for
events, detects them, propagates them, and determines which actions to take
according to conditions that have been determined in advance.
Eyeing a new horizon of possibilities
Thanks to changes in the mobile computing landscape, BI technology is becoming
progressively more accessible and effective out of the office as well. The screens
on mobile devices are steadily getting better, making it easier to connect people
to information wherever they are. Similarly, the simplicity of search technology,
when combined with the insight of BI, is enabling workers to tap into corporate
data sources in new ways, even when they don't know exactly what they are looking
For example, a law enforcement officer might want to locate all references
to a vehicle license plate number across all databases, transactions, and dynamically
generated reports, or a sales rep might want to know everything his company
has done with a particular customer in the last month. By using embedded integration
technology, the BI environment can take these searches to a whole new level.
These users might begin with free-form, Google-style searches, and then reach
into the associated transactions and databases to find additional information,
correlating events as they go along.
About the Author
Bringing nearly two decades of software industry experience to his role as Vice President of Sales Support Services for Information Builders, Kevin Quinn oversees the development of strategic marketing for all product lines and the field event organization, which is responsible for organizing Information Builders innovative product workshops and seminars. He can be reached at Kevinr_quinn@ibi.com