BI works and plays well with others

"Putting up a single tower on a site involves about 10 different disciplines and contractors, as well as dozens of regulatory agencies," Patton says. "A number of alternative sites might be considered in the placement process, each with a set of pros and cons, and all the relevant information needs to be collected and stored for later decision making." With the VQS application, field workers can enter data directly into the system remotely, and it is then compiled in ProgramScope.

One VQS client, a major telecommunication company, is currently deploying a nationwide wireless network. The company is using ProgramScope to track its information, which includes about 7,000 fields in Oracle databases, 1.3 million documents and 4.5 million tasks. Microsoft (microsoft.com) Excel is used as the interface for reporting results of analyses.

"The data is stored in Oracle and analyzed by Logi 9 software, but the user interface is Excel, because it is a familiar format for most people," Patton explains. "When users have to learn a new application to do their job, they often circumvent it and pull the data out into Excel anyway. That recreates the same data fragmentation that has plagued the telecommunications industry for so long." A typical output report might include comparative data for a number of potential tower sites. Excel can be used to present the data in graphs or other visual formats for easy comparison.

In addition to managing the data more efficiently, ProgramScope also allows the telecommunications customer to reduce its program management overhead, and to oversee that complex and geographically dispersed project with a small, headquarters-based program management team. "This approach has allowed the company to deploy network assets at a significantly reduced cost," Patton says.

VQS will tailor its ProgramScope platform for other companies in the telecommunications industry and for other industries, to help alleviate data fragmentation issues that arise through both acquisition and complex data requirements.

The open architecture of the Logi 9 platform influenced its selection by VQS, because it made integration with multiple data sources and other software products simpler, and allowed for easier and more efficient modification of the system when new data elements were added. Another factor was the product’s ease of use by developers.

According to Steve Schneider, VP of marketing and sales at LogiXML, sophisticated applications can be built very rapidly. "We give developers a large library of pre-built elements, so that they can construct a reporting, analytics or dashboarding application in a matter of hours and without any manual coding. Reporting functionality can be further extended through plug-ins."

Schneider notes that the ease of use has made Logi 9 an attractive option for companies that do not have the time or resources to spend on a long development cycle.

Seamless BI

Microsoft’s plan for its BI platform is much like it was for Microsoft Office—to make it ubiquitous. "We want to make BI a completely seamless part of people’s work environment," says Kristina Kerr, group product manager for Microsoft BI. "Users should be able to carry out analyses within the context of their normal applications." The BI platform components include SQL Server for data storage, SharePoint for publishing BI to the Web, collaboration and content management, with Excel as the analysis front end.

Tyson Foods is using that combination to present information on dashboards, monitor key performance indictors (KPIs) and carry out reporting functions. The company used to have to extract information from its SAP enterprise resource program, but now can combine SAP and sales data in Excel and make it accessible via SharePoint dashboards and Web-based Excel spreadsheets. Individual and team sales performance can be measured and compared. With SQL Server Analysis Services, data cubes can be created and exposed to people for use in their analysis via Excel and SharePoint.

Kerr echoes the comment that users prefer the familiar Excel format. "If they are forced into a different application, users will pull out the data and analyze it in Excel, which results in multiple versions of the truth because the data is no longer connected to original source data, and it becomes outdated very quickly." In fact, Gartner includes integration with Microsoft Office’s Excel as one of the criteria for evaluating BI software products. For Microsoft, Excel is part of the BI solution, and can be connected to live data in SQL Server.

The Microsoft BI platform is in transition because PerformancePoint Server, the BI scorecarding component, is now being integrated into SharePoint and will no longer be offered as a standalone product. SharePoint also includes analytics and drill-down capability.

"We consider BI to be more of a function than a separate product, because it’s baked into our primary software products," says Kerr. "This lets customers leverage their existing investments to offer BI capabilities to a wide range of workers."

As a company brings BI to a broader base of users, it should be careful to keep the strategic vision in mind. "BI is a toolset platform, and developers need to understand exactly what users need," comments Gartner’s Richardson. "Now that the technological barriers to integrating data are being overcome, it’s more important than ever to collaborate across departments to use this information well. It can make the difference between an efficiency improvement and a transformational change."

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