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TDWI Experts is a twice-monthly e-newsletter where BI/DW thought leaders share opinions and commentary about relevant industry topics and the latest technologies.


January 13, 2011

3 Action Items for the New Year

Stephen Swoyer, contributing editor

Topic: Business Intelligence

Like your existing business intelligence (BI) resources? Chances are, there's more intelligence lurking in both your BI tools and your BI consumers than you realize. In this column, I offer a trio of New Year's resolutions -- or, given the negative reputation of resolutions, action items -- for the forward-thinking -- and BI-savvy -- organization.

Action Item #1: Power to the People

Analytics aren't just for analysts. Rank-and-file users are ready, willing, and -- most importantly -- able to assume more analytic responsibility.

In many cases, they're already interacting in analytic contexts, be it via blogging, tweeting, of participation in online forums. True, none of these activities is explicitly analytic; all the same, they provide a context in which people can test claims, gain insights, and make decisions. While they may never become analytic rock stars, they'll almost certainly benefit from being exposed to analytic functionality in their jobs.

"You're going to get a lot more power out of having, say, 20 or 30 smarter people out there making more, better [informed] decisions than you would by just having that one [Ph.D.] genius alone [in the back office]," Michael Corcoran, senior vice president with Information Builders Inc. (IBI) told me last year.

More than half a decade ago, Web services and Web 2.0 gave shops a means to more easily expose analytic functionality to end users. What was lacking was a killer context. Thanks to social collaboration -- with its emphases on rich interactivity, information analysis, and give-and-take -- organizations can now conceive of at least one such context. BI vendors are even starting to build social capabilities into their tools, chiefly as a means to complement or enrich the analytic experience. LyzaSoft kickstarted this trend early last year; by November, IBM Corp. was touting the social collaborative capabilities of its Cognos 10.1 release.

Pushing analytics out to rank-and-file users isn't something that could -- or should -- happen overnight, but it can't hurt to start talking about when and how to do so.

Action Item #2: Measure BI Impact

When it comes to analytics, a surprising number of shops haven't the foggiest idea what they're doing -- or how well they're doing it. In a survey published last year, for example, market-watcher IDC found that one-third of organizations lack the means to adequately assess the efficacy of their analytic investments -- in spite of the fact that BI itself is designed to help shops monitor and understand performance.

Which begs the question: what's more natural than using a BI tool to report on or assess the efficacy of its own adoption?

For this very reason, many BI vendors (including IBI, IBM, MicroStrategy Inc., Oracle Corp., SAP AG, and SAS Institute Inc.) include canned reports or analytics designed to help shops understand how their BI solutions are being used. The rub, then and now, is getting people to do so.

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Organizations have lacked insight into the efficacy of their BI and data warehousing (DW) investments for far too long. It's a recurrent theme in market research from IDC,, and other sources. In most cases, the means to gain that insight is afforded by BI tools themselves.

It's time to get serious about this problem.

Action Item #3: Go Mobile

Last year, just before Christmas, the president and CEO of a scholarship and tuition management firm based in the Southeast gave her entire executive team iPads. She wasn't thinking particularly about BI, she concedes; she just sees the sleek iPad as a sensible complement to the bulky laptop computer. She's also excited about serving up dashboards, charts, and reports to iPad-toting executives -- perhaps someday to rank-and-file knowledge workers (see Action Item #1) -- using her company's SharePoint portal resources.

The iPad by itself isn't the answer to your mobile prayers, of course, but a mobile device will almost certainly figure in your BI future -- either as a complement to or replacement for the traditional (desktop) or transitional (laptop) PC.

Smartphones have been commonplace in corporations for almost a decade now. Samsung, Research in Motion Inc., and other vendors are unveiling iPad-like devices of their own. By 2012, IDC says, the combined base of smartphones and tablet computers will surpass that of the PC.

It's time to start thinking beyond the traditional PC. Some of the pieces -- such as smartphones or conventional tablet computers -- are already in place. What's missing is a top-down imprimatur. So why not make 2011 the Year of Mobile BI?

Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor to TDWI's BI This Week newsletter.

Copyright 2011. TDWI. All rights reserved.

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