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LESSON - The “Right Time” for Operational Business Intelligence?

By Lisa Dreyer, Director of Product Marketing, Sybase, Inc.

For many organizations, the business intelligence (BI) system enables power users and skilled business users to report on and analyze business data so that organizations can reduce costs and increase revenues. Many companies and government agencies routinely use a BI system for strategic and tactical decision making. Analysts look at what’s happened in the past, figure out why it’s happened, and make changes to future strategies.

What’s Changed?

An intensely competitive global climate is forcing organizations to react faster to changing business conditions and customer demands. Further, it’s requiring that the BI system drive and optimize critical operations—daily or intraday. This smarter use is what’s termed operational business intelligence or operational BI. The objective of operational BI is to make timelier business decisions; therefore, it has a close relationship to right-time BI.

Right-time BI is all about delivering the right information in the right format to the right people at the right time for decision-making purposes. Right-time BI optimizes (“right-sizes”) the time latency between when a business event occurs and when appropriate action is taken.

So, why are organizations now getting serious about achieving this goal? Organizations are under more careful—and public—scrutiny than ever before. The media and the competition are looking at new global compliance regulations as well as highly publicized business results: the wins... and the losses. Customer expectations are high; margins for error are shrinking; and tolerance for poor business intelligence is low.

The goal of operational BI is to close the gap between analytical applications and operational applications, creating a closed-loop process. Ideally, this brings the benefits of business intelligence to a broader population within an organization. People and processes in operational departments can now take advantage of the power of this tool. Business intelligence is no longer just for power users and analysts.

What Are the Requirements?

To achieve the competitive benefits of right-time BI (and ultimately operational BI), organizations need to select underlying technology that will support the basic requirements of the environment: speed, scalability, flexibility, low operating cost, and fast backup and recovery.

  • Speed—Operational BI systems must provide answers to ad hoc queries within “right-time” requirements. Applications may be on the Web, and are often customer-facing. Tolerance for analysis latency is measured in seconds and minutes, with no failed queries. Ultimately, to stay ahead of the game, companies need faster answers internally, in addition to faster customer services than their competition.
  • Scalability—Operational BI must be highly available to everyone involved in the key operations of daily business. The system must be able to incrementally scale to thousands of concurrent users and to terabytes of data, while maintaining query speeds of seconds or minutes.
  • Flexibility—Operational BI systems must support a variety of schemas, configurations, and queries to meet business needs. To optimize ROI, deployment must be fast and must be based on standard hardware and operating systems. For ease of integration, the system must be compatible with existing applications and tools. Remember, maintaining nonstandard platforms adds costs and complexity to the organization.
  • Low operating cost—Look for an analytics server, like Sybase IQ, that provides the price/performance to achieve your operational BI goals while reducing overall costs. This quotient encompasses reducing the costs of tuning, administration, support, and maintenance; reducing storage costs by compressing data; and using lower-cost platforms like Linux.
  • Fast backup and recovery—Operational BI systems are mission-critical to organizations. The cost of downtime to the business or government agency can be enormous, especially if the system hosts a customer-facing or Web-based service critical to business operations. Look for a system designed to support an efficient backup and recovery plan.
Conclusion—The “Right Time” for Operational BI Is Now

Strategic and tactical BI is well entrenched in most organizations, and the biggest growth area in BI over the next few years will be in operational BI. This type of BI promises significant business benefits and extends to a wide user audience. Make sure you are making technology decisions today that will support the needs of this next generation of BI.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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