The Perils of Self Service BI

BI Infrastructure, BI Strategy, on Demand BI 1 Comment

Self-service BI is becoming the holy grail of business intelligence in its big promise to break the reliance of business users on IT to create their reports. With self-service BI, business users get the information they need, when they want it, how they want it. However, its not quite as simple as it sounds. For most business users, the BI tools are too difficult to use.

So what’s the solution – in-business power users. Power users are technically savvy business analysts that work within business teams to provide reporting. Adding BI to their suite of tools will replace a lot of very shaky complex pivot tables, and provide a much more insightful set of outcomes.

The big win is getting report production out of IT – away from IT deadlines and out of the hands of those who have no added business value into the process. Business power users are in touch with the business on a daily basis, as such they have more insight into the types of problems that the business needs to solve and the insight [data] needed to help make decisions around solving that problem. Read the rest…

BICC – Value or Vault?

BI Infrastructure, BI Program, BI Strategy No Comments

As a Strategic Performance Consultant doing a lot of work in the BI arena I am often asked about the real value of Business Intelligence Competency Centers [BICC]. Many businesses struggle to see the benefits in the early days of BI, regarding the BICC as a compliance discipline that is likely to act as a bottleneck, swallowing up their projects, dampening enthusiasm and frustrating progress.

As BICCs have started to emerge more frequently in the last few years, there is little in the way of long term case studies to sway the sceptics, so what I suggest must be taken with an element of good faith. A properly structured BICC can do more to progress your BI Roadmap than any other element of the BI Program. It is not just a standardisation body – it also acts as the Evangelist for business intelligence throughout the business. One of the first tasks of the BICC is to identify the best opportunities for BI. This requires educated assessment – something many business units have not had the advantage of achieving in their already overloaded schedules. The BICC can act either formally, or informally to guide business groups in assessing the benefits of incorporating BI and help them become more aware of how BI is used – beyond better reporting!. Read the rest…

CIO Focus Moving From Information To Recommendation

BI Infrastructure, BI Strategy No Comments

Most CIOs will agree that data or information isn’t in short supply. But businesses don’t need more information – they need decisions about what action to take next. They need Business Intelligence capability to convert their information into recommendations. And that means the ability to analyze discrete pieces of information and use them to gain a competitive edge.

It all sounds simple, but for many employees, BI is just a more complex way to getting reports. Most have not been educated in the principles of business intelligence, and how to integrate it with their processes and their people. Read the rest…

Virtualized Data and Automated Discovery

BI Infrastructure, BI Strategy, Data No Comments

In an IT world that is rapidly becoming virtualized at the hardware and software levels it is not too much of a stretch to envision virtualization at the data level – easy to dream about, not so difficult to create, or is it?

As businesses continue to struggle to capture, clean and transform their data into a format best suited to BI tools, the adoption of BI in critical decision making is stalled.

BI visualization tools are being increasingly integrated directly to applications, relational databases and cubes, using web services and SOA, with innovations such as columnar databases are promising to overcome the format and power constraints that are holding BI adoption at sub par levels.

Virtualized data would abstract the data from its source silo structure, and instead present as a consumable entity regardless of ETTL processes it may have to pass through to become usable to the end BI tool. This abstraction supports the concept of automated discovery, where data from any source, in any format is consumable by BI applications.

With over 80 percent of information relevant to daily business decisions now unstructured, such advances in data management innovation are critical to overcoming current constraints. Omniture, Web analytics vendor are about to release a product to monitor API traffic on the Web, and a lot of keyword tracking to measure application traffic and consumption patterns. This would, for example, allow online retailers determine the best page layouts to sell more products. This comparative intelligence can be fed into BI analytic or visualization tools to add to customer profiling data.

SAP’s Business Objects Explorer also tracks end user activity across related topics at one location and aggregates it with related data feeds. Explorer is data feed agnostic – leaning towards the type of abstraction that defines virtualization. Information may be drawn from text, voice, video, transaction data or anything else as a mashup of structured and unstructured content with mapping providing contextual relevance.

No amount of ‘intuitive interface’ design will match human capability, but a lot can happen behind the scenes that surpasses the ability of humans to correlate relationships between massive volumes of data in very short time intervals. This contextual mapping has advanced far beyond the traditional integration of data warehousing and is heralding another major leap in BI infrastructure capability.

Ebay Considering BI SaaS To It’s Traders

BI Infrastructure, BI Solutions, on Demand BI No Comments

As BI on Demand, also known as BI Software as a Service [SaaS] is a hot topic with most BI solution vendors, eBay is not being left behind.  eBay’s own gigantic data warehouse, used for internal business intelligence (BI) analytics can be opened up to its trading customers to provide real time performance analytics. This emulates Amazons initiative with its family of Amazon Web Services. Most notable among these services are its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) application hosting service and its S3 hosted storage service.

eBay has a five petabyte Teradata data warehouse that adds 50TB of new data each day. This active data warehouse is capable of processing over a terabyte of data in just five seconds, allowing business analysts to build their own “virtual” data marts, currently used by about 5,000 business analysts in 100 groups inside eBay. A significant feature of these data marts is that whilst they run off the central data warehouse they were created without the help of central IT.

Business analysts create and upload their own mini-data warehouses using standard web and analytical tools such as those from Business Objects, SAS, Microstrategy and even Microsoft’s Excel. Once a prototype has run successfully for 90 days, they are converted by the data warehouse managers into production data marts with minimal rewriting. This process cuts the time to deploy by at least 50%, in many cases by up to 80%.

eBay are currently analysing problems that opening up the datawarehouse to outsiders will bring – such as how to minimise the time it would take customers to upload large amounts of data to eBay’s data warehouse. The solution appears to be to “couple analytics as a platform offering that has the data generating part sitting closer together”. Much of the self-service BI capability already came built in to the Teradata 5550 data warehousing software. The Teradata software provides workload management enabling “virtual” data marts to be partitioned and prioritised. All we need to do is build a web portal and simple interface.

Hence the possible hosting eBay’s BI-as-a-service on Amazon’s EC2 and storing users’ data on S3. Amazon is using EC2 to provide its own web-hosted database called SimpleDB.

Other current hot BI on Demand projects include Microsoft’s “Project Gemini” which plans to create an easy-to-use Excel-based tool that lets regular analysts build their own BI queries and dashboards.

BI in Gartners 2009 Top Tech List

BI Infrastructure, BI Market, Cloud Computing, IT Strategy No Comments

Gartner has released its Top Tech list for 2009, and BI sits at #9. This years top strategic technology is very much based at the infrastructure, rather than the application level with Virtualization, cloud computing, computing fabric, web-oriented architecture and unified communications. This has somewhat overpowered the strategic value of BI, but is significant to BI in that it focuses attention to the underlying capability that BI requires to perform at its best.

To be included on Gartners list, the technology must possess more than just inherent features and funcitonality. It must be capable of being applied across multiple platforms and have real value to business.

Virtualization – is transforming corporate IT infrastructure at both the server and desktop level.

Cloud Computing – is the buzz phrase in IT today, so it is no wonder that it hit the strategic list at number two. Cloud computing will have a signficant impact on the way technology is deployed in organizations and will add support to SaaS models in all application fields.

Comuting Fabrics – at number 3, [#8 in 2008] server technology ‘Computing Fabrics’ combines server technology resources to enable them to be dispensed with their underlying pools of small, medium and large servers. Blade servers have some computing fabric capability – being able to move memory and processor capability.

Following the top three are:

4. Web-oriented Architecture – impacting the SOA model for services delivery, this architecture uses Web standards, identifiers, formats and protocols.

5. Enterprise Mashups – up from #6, applies the wizardary of contentmashups to allow users to employ public APIs to quickly combine various services and capabilities; extending the flexibility business users have to combine data inside and outside the enterprise.

6. Specialized Systems – new to the list, includes all those specialized appliances for Java, data warehousing and other processes. Not quite sure where this one will end as it is a dumping ground for all the less significant technologies, that when applied together become significant.

7. Social Software and Social Networking – up from #10, these tools extend collaboration efforts across organizations.

8. Unified Communications – aligned to number 7 above, and down from the second spot last year, Gartner anticipates a major consolidation of communications vendors through unified communications.

9. Business intelligence – new to the list, although surprising it hasn’t made it in the past. However, the reality of BI has dawned with the increase in computing power making BI tools more effective and efficient. The focus on BI has moved from core analytics as a distinct function to operational BI, embedded into business processes supporting automated decision making and exception management.

10. Green IT – the top contender in 2008 has lost ground to the bottom spot but has not diminished in importance. Sustainability is now woven into the fabric of IT strategy and as such is no longer seen as a separate capability but an inherent requirement of all corporate operations and technology.