Business intelligence refers to the broad classification
of applications and technology tools designed to collect, store
and analyze raw business data, which can then be used to guide
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BI: Not Just for Bosses
Business intelligence has guided restaurants on which
burgers to add, helped retailers determine which customers to
target for upselling and guided sports teams to victory. But
the business intelligence arena is changing and its reach is
growing. BI is becoming increasingly important to businesses as
they try to turn data into information. To whit, Gartner found
it to be the number one technology priority for
“Business intelligence is permeating into all nooks and
crannies of the business,” says John Hagerty, an analyst at AMR
Research. Whereas business intelligence was largely confined to
finance and human resource, the increased offerings and
developments mean additional uses. “The number of users BI can
touch grows phenomenally,” he says. Increasingly, there will be
“more insight into more stuff for more people.”
Here are five key business intelligence trends that are
having an impact.
Business Intelligence Trend No. 1: There’s so much data,
but too little insight.
Here’s one big reason business intelligence is on companies’
radars: the volume and velocity of information. More data
translates to a greater need to manage it and make it
actionable. “Everything we use and everything we buy is
becoming an information source and companies must be able to
figure out how to harness that,” says Bill Hostmann, a Gartner
The problem? “Organizations are recognizing they don’t have
the information they need to manage the business,” says
Hostmann. The data is there, but it’s trapped in different
silos and its accuracy can’t be trusted. For example, how
information is entered can vary widely from how it needs to be
used to make organizational decisions and, all too often,
definitions vary from silo to silo. For example, finance and
marketing could define gross margin differently, which
influences how and what numbers are reported.
Trend No. 2: Market Consolidation
Means Fewer Choices for Business Intelligence Users.
Independent business intelligence companies may soon be a
memory. First, Oracle bought Hyperion in February. Then in
early October, SAP made a bid for Business Objects. That leaves
Cognos and MicroStrategy as potential takeover targets, with
speculation growing that Cognos will be next.
On the one hand, there may be some advantages to having
large vendors in the business intelligence arena.
Traditionally, business intelligence is not a top-of-mind
investment for companies, but rather a sort of afterthought
once the major application decisions were made, says John
Hagerty, an analyst at AMR Research. As large vendors integrate
business intelligence capabilities, BI will be easier to
integrate into that vendor’s applications. Furthermore,
investment in business intelligence may become more of a core
decision, he says.
One the other hand, as independent business intelligence
companies are acquired by the giants, many practitioners and
experts worry that “the software provider you’d like to
use will end up in the hands of a vendor you don’t want to do
business with,” says Hagerty. Moreover, the company that does
the acquiring may not fit into your current architecture;
competing technical stacks may became an issue, he says. “What
I’m seeing is clients determining which vendor they want to
use, then the logical question is, Who’s going to buy this
company? It’s on everyone’s mind and that
uncertainty causes people not to move or to move to an
alternative that they think won’t change.” So market
consolidation could make it easier to get BI, but users may be
left with fewer choices.
Trend No. 3: Business Intelligence
Expands from the Board Room to the Front Lines.
Increasingly, business intelligence tools will be available
at all levels of the corporation. Operational business
intelligence—which brings business intelligence to
employees on the front lines—is growing especially fast,
industry watchers say.
Boris Evelson, an analyst with Forrester research, says
operational business intelligence will include offerings that
integrate data and process dashboards, and event-driven systems
that initiate a business process based on certain data
For example, integrating business intelligence into
operational processes could allow companies to react faster to
changing business conditions, for example, alerting a call
center worker to offer a particular promotion or to potential
credit card fraud.
Trend No. 4: The Convergence of
Structured and Unstructured Data Will Create Better
E-mail, memos, voicemail messages and other sources of
unstructured data are rich sources of information, and
companies and developers are responding by looking for ways to
blend structured and unstructured data for better decision
making. For example, retailers could add comments and
complaints from e-mail and call centers into a BI application
to enhance their market segmentation analysis, says
Hagerty agrees: “Getting information that’s not in the
typical rows and columns is the next logical frontier.” He adds
that this trend holds real promise. “This gives people more
information to make the right decision,” says Hagerty. People
will no longer have to rely on “gut,” but will instead have
more information with which to make informed decisions.
Trend No. 5: Applications
Will Provide New Views of Business Intelligence
The next generation of business intelligence applications is
moving beyond the pie charts and bar charts into more visual
depictions of data and trends. Witness products like JMP (from
SAS), Spotfire (from Tibco), Tableau, Thinkmap and others
provide visualization for complex data.
Alternative ways of
displaying complex data—to increase interaction and
usefulness—is an area that will continue growing in the
coming years, say Evelson and Hagerty.