RESEARCH & RESOURCES

LESSON - Process-centric Business Intelligence: Improving Business Processes with Comprehensive Service Oriented Architecture

arcplan

By Peter Caron, Senior Director, Global Marketing, arcplan, Inc.

The promise of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) is more than using a Web service to access a data source. The real value of SOA is in the improvement of business processes and the agility with which an organization can respond to change.

One opportunity is to embed business intelligence (BI) within processes for the first time. BI grew up consolidating data from operational systems, and making analysis available in pockets of the organization. The problem is that BI became data-heavy and inflexible, creating analytical stores that are unconnected and unable to interact with an entire business process. With Web services in an SOA environment, these walls are coming down.

Let’s look at an example of this process-centric BI in improving cash flow and sales forecasting. A company has implemented the following independent BI applications:

  • Cash flow analysis and forecasting
  • Accounts receivable (AR) analysis
  • Sales analysis and forecasting

Each application uses different data sources: the cash flow and AR applications primarily analyze the company’s ERP system, while the sales analysis application uses data from the CRM system and a sales data warehouse. In addition, an external news analysis application, which is accessible as a Web service, is used by sales staff to research news on customers and prospects.

The real value of SOA is in the improvement of business processes and the agilitywith which an organizationcan respond to change.

A process-centric solution connects these disparate sources. For example, a dashboard application is deployed against these four applications, making the applications and their associated metrics accessible via one interface. This connection means that alerts can be tied to an entire business process instead of just the data in one system.

The CFO, for example, may set up the following business monitoring rule:

  1. Raise an exception alert if cash flow is lagging behind forecast by more than 10 percent.
  2. If Alert 1 is triggered, drill into accounts receivable and check for forecast deviations.
  3. If a significant deviation is found in accounts receivable:
    • Drill into sales and check for forecast deviations
    • Trigger a news analysis on the relevant customer or industries
    • Notify the relevant account executives on external trends

One of the benefits of this process-centric BI approach is faster time to action. The old approach raised independent alerts with no context, requiring expensive meetings and manual research to discover the complete issue. With process- centric BI, a financial analyst would receive an e-mail alert noting that:

  1. A cash flow exception has been raised...
  2. due to overdue payments...
  3. and lower sales revenue within a specific customer segment...
  4. potentially caused by the a steep rise in commodity prices, which had a strong effect on the particular customer segment (news analysis).

Possible action includes improving cash flow analysis by introducing sales or commodity pricing variables in the forecast. And if the dashboard has other process-centric capabilities like write-back to the source systems, then this reaction is automated, improving the efficiency of the process even more.

With comprehensive SOA integration, your BI environment adheres to your business processes rather than creating analytical silos.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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