BI Grows Up: IT Moving Past Integration Woes

IT has finally figured out how to make the back-end BI connections work, according to new Aberdeen Group BI research. The next big BI challenge: Ensuring ease-of-use for end users.

Sometimes, one year can make all the difference for corporate IT departments.

For instance, Aberdeen Group's 2008 business intelligence survey data showed that the top two pressures driving companies to get a grip on BI costs were a need to move beyond data-integration challenges (42 percent) and to actually deliver BI tools to end users (29 percent).

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In a 2008 CIO.com article on the Aberdeen survey data, Aberdeen's group director of technology research, David Hatch, noted that integration alone could dictate the success or failure of any BI program. "What I'm finding is that companies don't really understand the extent of the data management challenges to BI until they get into it," Hatch said.

According to Aberdeen's follow-up survey data in 2009, covering more than 190 enterprises, companies and their IT departments have become more comfortable and adept with their BI systems. For instance, 70 percent of all respondents reported that they have had a BI implementation for a year or more.

The result of this year-long maturation isn't surprising, though it is important: In the 2009 list of cost-related BI pressures, execs say the top item is improving BI apps ease-of-use for non-technical users (39 percent). And moving down the list of the pressures are data integration and delivering BI to more end users (both at 31 percent).

"The flip-flop between 2008 and 2009 respondent priorities can partially be explained by the advancement in deployment longevity that has occurred over time," Hatch writes in the report.

In other words: IT has finally started to make the back-end connections work.

That the 2009 top spot relates to "ease of use" is unsurprising. For years, BI's hype has not matched corporate reality among users: enterprises (such as Starbucks) have struggled with training and business support problems and been plagued by data-integrity issues.

All of which has led to pent-up frustration: In one survey, almost half of business leaders said they trusted their guts instead of their BI tools to make business decisions.

More change is in store. As Aberdeen's Hatch notes, "until recently, BI was deployed mainly to managers, business analysts and C-level executives as a tool to gain better visibility into company performance, trends and standard reporting," he writes.

But that is changing, as the technical kinks have been resolved, and more enterprises realize that BI's expanded use can have positive effects on day-to-day business operations. Now they want to unleash BI to the masses. "In today's down economy," Hatch writes, "BI is now being viewed as having a potential impact on operational performance."

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