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Question and Answer: How Agile Business Intelligence Can Ease Data Access

The challenge of getting access to all of the data that companies now routinely collect can be addressed through more agile methods of access, argues Kevin Scott with Visual Mining.

Companies face a continuing challenge to quickly and inexpensively get immediate use out of the gold mine of corporate information. One way to make immediate data access easier, argues Kevin Scott, vice president of engineering and client services with Visual Mining, is through “agile business intelligence.” He defines the term as the ability of business users to quickly obtain insights from their data without help from IT and without large initial or ongoing time and resource investments.

A low initial investment can return immediate yields in terms of better business insights for everyday users, Scott says. For that reason, he maintains, agile BI solutions are an increasingly popular option with small and mid-size businesses.

TDWI: First, what do you mean by the term “agile BI”?

Kevin Scott: We use the term agile business intelligence to refer to the ability to rapidly and continuously deliver insight without making huge initial or ongoing investments in time or resources.

That means that business users have the ability to manage, update, and drill deeply into their data. They have the control and ability to interact with data to get the answers they need, when they need it. You know you have an agile BI solution in place when a business person can come into work with a new idea and act on it immediately.

What is the opposite of agile BI?

The opposite of agile BI would be traditional BI engagements -- those that are lengthy, complex, and expensive. Those types of engagements tend to focus on technology, unfortunately -- how to deploy, integrate, and enable the technology teams to work with the products.

Agile BI, on the other hand, encourages quick, meaningful insight; it focuses on business users so they can interact with data in an intuitive, comprehensive, and effective manner.

You’ve said that you’re finding this to be an appealing message for customers. Why?

There are three core reasons that agile BI has such a growing appeal:

  • First, it typically involves a very low initial (and ongoing) investment. An investment in true agile BI is a fraction of the cost of traditional BI or dashboard deployments.
  • Second, you can expect immediately visible and measureable results. Since agile BI is focused on the business end user, results and value are obtained immediately. By immediately, I mean literally in a matter of minutes -- or perhaps hours in some cases.
  • Finally, agile BI satisfies the end user’s desire to explore and discover. By managing their own data -- rather than waiting for help from the IT team or issuing change requests or filing new report request and so forth -- non-technical business users are free to explore and discover creative answers to their business challenges. The fact that they can do that immediately is critical -- they can get an answer to their question about the data almost as soon as the question occurs to them.

What are the key elements of agile business intelligence, and where should a company beginning in building an agile BI effort?

Because agile BI encourages the creation and use of dashboards and reporting for three-week as well as three-year projects, there are really only a few key elements needed to get started:

You need an individual desire to solve a problem (it could be a user’s own project, a department goal, or a corporate objective).

You must realize that you need better insight from your data (which could be located across a single business site or in sites across the country or the world) to help guide the decision-making process and to get the insights needed to solve the problem.

Finally, rather than asking the IT department for help getting to the data -- or in conjunction with your IT department -- users can explore agile BI solutions that empower you to connect to multiple data sources. Agile BI enables you to interact with your data in intuitive, comprehensive new ways -- and to do so with just a few clicks of your mouse

What’s preventing companies from employing more of this sort of BI?

Right now, very large enterprises have are trying to understand and uncover how they can get more value from the huge investments in BI most have already made -- hence they’re reluctant to spend more money on corporate BI.

However, even within these very large enterprises, smaller departments are adopting agile BI, simply because they need to get things done. Within mid-market and smaller organizations we are seeing an increasing adoption of agile BI.

How important is it to have the right tools in place?

The tools are critically important. Business users must have the right tools to do their jobs and to lessen the burden on IT. When implementing agile BI, rather than taking the warehouse view of life (that is, working up from the back office), and focusing on selecting the right tools, you start with the business users. They have the requirements, and by focusing there rather than on the tools and the data warehouse, the business users’ needs for ease of use, power, and agility can be met.

What does Visual Mining bring to this discussion?

Visual Mining offers NetCharts Performance Dashboards (NCPD), which incorporates more than 13 years of visual mining data visualization and dashboard know-how, yet is designed to be used by the everyday business user.

NetCharts Performance Dashboards provides agile performance dashboarding, in which the power of business intelligence is immediately placed into the hands of the business user. This provides an attractive alternative to the costly and lengthy implementation cycles associated with traditional business intelligence and dashboard tools.

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