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The Executive Guide To BI Tools And Solutions

In the past, business intelligence was seen as collective thinking and sharing of information using collaborative tools.

Today, advanced BI tools have expanded on this concept to become advanced decision making support and corporate performance management systems.

No longer are BI tools restricted to use by Executives, Senior Managers and Analysts.
BI Tools are becoming more readily available to large and mid-sized organisations, and are capable of enhancing the performance of 90% of all employees in an organisation.

In technical terms, BI is the capability to extract ing real time data from transactional and enterprise systems, transform it into usable analytical data, then present it to users in a meaningful way capable of supporting rapid decisions.

This has lead many organizations to approach business intelligence from the technology approach, as has historically been the typical approach for operational systems recording transactions.

However, Business intelligence requires a more 'information' based approach, changing the focus from tools to the business decisions that the users and stakeholders are currently making, and will need to make in the future, to manage the operation and performance of their business.

It is important for business managers and decision makers to understand the type of BI tools available, and the extent, and the limits of their capability.


BI Tools

The ultimate purpose of any BI tool is to help the organization deliver improved performance. The tool itself acts purely as an enabler, to provide sufficient information to enable fast decisions and rapid actions. It is these consequent actions that leads to improvement.

Business Intelligence [BI] tools commonly refer to the presentation application used by the business user to interact with BI data. However, it also includes the underlying application engine that manages access to the data and how the data can be manipulated and distributed.

Many organizations are now recognizing that BI software is an essential tool for maintaining their competitiveness, regardless of the industry in which they reside.
Business Intelligence [BI] tools include all those components, that together, provide a user with analytic capability and visual representation of enterprise data. They can be split into two groups: IT managed tools and User managed tools

IT Managed BI Tools

Business intelligence tools managed by IT include:

  • ETL – Extraction, Transformation and Load tools to extract data from transactional, ERP, CRM and other operational systems, and transform it into formats suitable for loading into the BI Data Warehouse.
  • BI Data Warehouses – to store enterprise data, making it available in a high performance BI environment
  • BI Data Marts – work akin to mini BI data warehouses to provide rapid access to information by a single business group
  • Data Mining Tools - to support ad hoc queries and analytics
  • OLAP Tools – Online Analytical Processing

Business User Tools

  • Advanced Visualisation Tools – Scorecards and Dashboards to provide rapid, quick on page glances at performance at any level.
    • Scorecards - provide KPI measurement across direct [hard data] and in-direct [soft measures]
    • Dashboards - a one page view of information portlets, that may either be static or able to be manipulated by the user [dynamic dashboards]
  • Ad Hoc Query Tools - to allow drill down to lower levels of greater detail
  • Analytic Tools – to examine data from different perspectives [dimensions]
  • Reporting tools – enable users to author and publish scheduled and ad hoc reports

Having the most appropriate tools is a critical factor in any Performance Management System and using the right tool for the right purpose, is a key enabler. The user must be able to, for instance, view a high level performance dashboard, run an ad hoc query to get more detail on an area of concern, use analytical tools to examine the data from different perspectives to better identify root cause and potential impact of changes, then author a scheduled report and alerts on the area of interest to ensure action is monitored in detail.


Business Intelligence Solutions

BI solutions are a suite of BI tools [both IT and User] to enabled a prepackaged implementation of BI capability. They vary considerably in their performance, largely based on their level of integration.

The level of integration depends to a large extent on how the BI solution suite was developed:

  • Innovation – purpose built from the ground up – gives a high level of integration
  • Acquisition – most BI suites are a conglomeration of distinct toolsets, bundled together for marketing puposes. These BI solutions have a much lower level of integration, and therefore a higher cost of deployment and maintenance.

Over the past 12 months, the rate of acquisition as dramatically escalated, markedly changing the BI vendor landscape. In particular:

  • Oracle acquired Hyperion
  • Cognos has agreed to purchase Applix
  • Cognos launched Cognos 8 BI, claiming it to be the only fully integrated BI solution on the market.
  • SAP has reached an agreement to acquire Business Objects, potentially paving the way for ‘Smart Apps’ with BI fully integrated into ERP solutions.

The total BI Solution is also commonly referred to as Business Performance Management [BPM] Software, or Enterprise Performance Management [EPM] Software.

Using BI Software, business users can create, modify and distribute simple reports based on complex data, customised to present real time feed back on key performance indicators [KPI's] pertinent to company.

Today, Bi solutions are more sophisticated than ever. And with products such as Microsoft PerformancePoint Server 2007, the integration is extending right into desktop applications.

BI tools are no longer specialised and expensive products, requiring significant training, and IT intervention. They are now user constructed, published and driven by data owned by the business user. No IT required. And they are no longer confined to C-suite. The use for BI tools extends over at least 80% of the organisation.

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