The App Store Effect on BI Applications and IT

Execs and managers are desperately seeking instant BI application satisfaction, and IT is trying to keep up. Here's why it may be a losing battle for CIOs, project managers and developers.

Of the many consequential effects of the "App Store" phenomenon, there is one staring down IT departments today: Not only does your average consumer now expect application selection, purchase and delivery to be pretty darn seamless, so too does your smartphone-toting knowledge worker and line-of-business manager.

If the App Store can do it, the thinking goes, then why can't my corporate IT department roll out that Web-based application just as easily and quickly?

Never mind that most enterprise applications necessitate more thoughtful governance, project planning and architectural considerations than any $1.99 app purchase: Users want their apps, and they want them now!

In no other corporate software segment is the "App Store Effect" more visible and troubling to CIOs and IT staffers than with business intelligence applications. Research has shown that when it comes to BI apps (as was and still is case with SaaS CRM apps), line of business managers are unafraid to circumvent IT and buy what they want, when they want it.

However, even when IT is on top of the situation—collaborating and strategizing with business execs to meet demand—that still might not be enough. Why? The business world moves too quickly.

That's the thrust of a new report by Forrester analyst Boris Evelson (subscription required). "Even if you architect and deploy BI applications by the book, following all known best practices," Evelson writes, "it still can be an unattainable goal to enable your BI application to react on a dime to frequently changing business requirements."

Those rapidly changing business situations include: an unexpected M&A event, an emerging competitive threat, a change in management structure, or new regulatory reporting requirements, Evelson notes. This, he adds, is "why the traditional BI application's life span can be days and weeks, as opposed to months or years."

Contrast that BI app lifespan with other corporate software: ERP, CRM, HR and financial apps that can last years (or even decades) with some appropriate modifications and updates. But as is the case with brand-new cars, Evelson contends that BI apps will have already lost value after they've been rolled out (driven off the dealer lot). "A BI application can become outdated the day it is rolled out," he writes.

It's a vexing proposition for today's overburdened IT shops: Follow sound project management and development strategies, give users exactly what they asked for in a relatively short amount of time, and it still might be not enough or, worse, too late.

Software industry analyst Julie Hunt writes of BI's time sensitivity in a recent blog post . She states that "a lot of data and content that matter for better 'Intelligence for the Business' comes with a short shelf life of significance."

Hunt also notes that for many companies "failure actually is part of the BI refinement cycle. But for costly enterprise-style BI solutions, 'failure' can be quite expensive."

The BI market continues to evolve and contort, as vendors reclassify some of their older products as "Business Intelligence" tools—adding more options for potential customers, of course, but also more confusion and complexity. (For what it's worth, spreadsheets are still considered "BI apps.")

The push to mobilize BI apps as well as demand for more "App Store"-like consumption methods will only further increase the pressure on CIOs and IT departments. In other words: Things might get worse before they get better.

Evelson notes in the Forrester report that business users' thirst for new and better BI applications appears to be unquenchable, which does mirror consumers' appetite for apps these days.

"The more [a company] uses them, the more new and different requirements keep pouring in," he writes. "This never-ending snowball effect of new BI requests from business users puts a significant strain on IT resources."

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at twailgum@cio.com.

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