Blended BI puts smarts into business  process

The evolution of business intelligence (BI) has taken the technology beyond the IT department and into the hands of the business users, but issues on user-friendliness and its ability to blend with existing processes remain as hurdles for enterprise uptake.  

At the recent Information Builders Summit in Las Vegas, forum participants expressed frustration over the challenges of integrating operational business intelligence into their businesses. 

Employees often rankle at having to jump between their processes and a business intelligence application, said Boris Evelson, a principal analyst with Forrester Research.

Echoing Evelson’s remark, Marc Andrew’s, IBM director of strategy and business development for unstructured information, said it’s all in the manner by which BI is presented to users.

“You can’t force people to pull up business intelligence applications,” Andrews said. “You have to have business intelligence information and insights put right in the context of the programs that they’re using,” said Marc Andrews, IBM’s

One way of getting around this, according to Information Builders’ vice-president of corporate marketing, Jake Freivald, is by offering a pared-down solution to customers, tailor-made to their needs. “People struggle with a blank state,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Canadian companies seem to be reaping the benefits of their BI investment.

Toronto-based online trading firm Swift Trade is an Information Builders user that found value in the flexibility of its chosen solution

“The price was important, but what differs is that they were willing to give us products specific to our needs at the time. Instead of the whole package, we got more of an incremental rollout,” said Sharief Zaman, Swift Trade’s director of IT. Because the implementation was done in phases, the company did not have to shell out the cash all at once.

Zaman found the implementation painless, seamlessly integrating the tool with Swift Trade’s existing system. “It’s Web-based, so there’s nothing to learn, really. There’s unlimited opportunities with Web-based-software implementation goes away, management goes away, and everyone has some sort of Web browser,” Zaman said.

Freivald said the majority of Information Builders’ customers are using WebFOCUS through some sort of intranet or internal Web mechanism that is practically invisible to the user, making adoption a breeze. “(Car manufacturer) Ford uses it for their warranty claims…We have guys with greasy fingers and plastic-covered keyboards using business intelligence!” he said.

Canadian customers are also catching on to the benefits of a simple point-and-click- and drag-and-drop-style internal Web-based interface. “Most people have no idea they’re even using WebFOCUS,” said Freivald.

For instance, internal users at Manitoba Hydro found their customer information system “super-easy,” according to the firm’s customer database developer Leo Laramee. “They have no idea what it runs on…they just push a button and get a report.”

Users at the Bank of Montreal Financial Group, another WebFOCUS customer, value the platform’s ability to consistently provide the same look-and-feel, said Jo-Ann Colantonio, senior manager of platform development with the financial firm.

Blending BI with existing applications is “the only way to make business intelligence pervasive,” said Information Builder’s Freivald.

Jim Kobielus, principal analyst with the Alexandria, Virginia-based IT research firm Current Analysis, said the idea of blended BI is growing in popularity, and that Information Builders is tapping into this in several ways, such as providing capability to send reports to mobile devices.

Kobielus agreed that role-tailored interfaces are a key way of integrating business intelligence seamlessly into the enterprise. He also cited the new WebFOCUS 7.6.1’s Excel plug-in, which allows users to create reports from within Excel as another way.

“Many end-users want to stay in their existing application; and what do people use to deal with complex tabulation of data? Spreadsheets. (They would like it) if they can stay in Excel and access the business intelligence environment, as good or better than Microsoft itself,” Kobielus said.

IT professionals could play a part in bringing the business intelligence revolution, he added. “IT departments want to stay in existence-they want their applications to be as accessible as possible and give users the tools to make their work life as productive as possible, and so business intelligence is a hot property with most IT groups.”

Kobielus foresees that business intelligence’s interactive visualization, complex analytics, and performance management aspects will be compelling for IT professionals, who will gravitate toward them more and more in both development and management.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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