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BI: core to the enterprise

Business intelligence (BI) will change greatly over the next five years, according to industry consultants and vendors who spoke at a recent Gartner Business Intelligence Summit in Chicago. They advised companies to keep that evolution in mind as they plan and implement their own BI projects.

Companies are moving from older definitions of business intelligence to “pervasive BI,” which includes not only business delivery, but also the ability to learn and understand the business in order to optimize performance and achieve efficiency, according to Kurt Schlegel, Gartner research director.

“The evolution of BI will continue to be driven by the business need to incorporate BI-style analytics directly into business process management,” Schlegel said at the conference, which was held March 12 to 14.

“By 2015,” he predicted, “BI practices, methodologies and technologies will have become recognized as core and integral components within 80 percent of enterprise applications. Organizations must find a balance between empowering humans to make the right decisions and bolstering their processes with basic, quantifiable optimization techniques.”

Betsy Burton, VP distinguished analyst at Gartner, said that BI users will continue to move to enterprisewide systems that will incorporate not only BI, but also customer relationship management, enterprise resource systems and other technologies that can be used in an enterprisewide, service-oriented architecture (SOA). Burton suggested that IT leaders start preparing now for integration of those technologies in a wide variety of applications.

That combination of technologies already has business intelligence users looking for different capabilities from their vendors, according to Lothar Schubert, director of SAP Netweaver product marketing. “Companies are looking to maximize the value from their investments in business intelligence,” he said.

The technologies will use simplified interfaces, such as Google-like search functionality, to enable a wide variety of users to work with the systems without specialized training, Burton commented.

The popularity of search and increasing importance of business intelligence is expected to prompt at least one popular search engine company to enter the BI market, according to Gartner research.

“Within two generations, every person will have the capacity to customize his work, location, information sources, tools and learning, all outside of traditional constraints,” Mark Beyer, Gartner research director, forecasted. “The future worker, spurred by consumer behavior, social connectivity and an arsenal of personal devices, will create a work environment of infinitely varied options. Ninety percent of companies are already lagging behind the thinking and skills of the future worker.”

Burton said, “No longer can IT organizations ‘push’ technology and applications onto users, but rather users will have to be able to ‘pull’ the sources and resources they need, whether they be applications, information, people or processes. These changes place increasing pressure on IT to respond more quickly to a growing demand from users for solutions that are easy to use and Web-based.”

Beyer added that guided querying will be needed when user groups become larger and even go beyond the organizational borders. Power users will not be able to guide casual users anymore. So increased controls will be needed to make sure different people come to similar conclusions based on similar queries.

The continuing movement to SOA architectures will increase the importance of focusing on data, content and applications integration issues, Burton noted. With SOA, applications will no longer know the source of information. That makes the consistency and quality of data paramount. The impact of a change to even a single data structure may be very significant, although not always obvious.

So Burton recommended that IT leaders define the impact that finer-grained applications supporting SOA, the addition of new content into the information management portfolio and new users will have on the requirement for skills to support consistency and quality of information.

“Focus on the people and process aspect of supporting business intelligence and information management, which is driven by business strategy and objectives, as opposed to technology- and applications-driven approaches,” she suggested.

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