Businesses will face a 10-fold increase in the amount of information from their IT systems over the next five years, an influx of data that will pose tough decisions for smoothly using BI (business-intelligence) software.
That pressure is going to fall on chief information officers (CIOs), who will increasingly be asked to present managers with up-to-date information in a format that allows them to make faster business decisions.
"We need to create an environment where that information can live safely," said Frank Buytendijk, a research vice president at Gartner, at the company's BI conference in London on Monday. "There is unbelievable information to be mined."
Organizations, however, must carefully plan how they will integrate their IT architectures for BI, said Bill Hostmann, Gartner research vice president. High user expectations and eventual commoditization of BI platforms will bring down the per-user cost, he said.
But the lack of ability among BI users to customize and share the information will hold back its effectiveness, he said. After deploying a BI system, CIOs have often said the main problem is that they forgot to train users, Hostmann said.
"It's the biggest hidden cost," Hostmann said.
Companies tend to revert to spreadsheets as information system "duct tape" as they move to a common platform. But spreadsheets "are not a tool to manage your business," said Andreas Bitterer, a research vice president at Gartner. Bitterer said he knows of a large company that uses 14,000 spreadsheets, a troubling fact when numbers on one spreadsheet affects many others.
The amount of attention paid to BI projects is crucial to their success or failure. "What we find is that the success of a business-intelligence initiative is proportional to the altitude of the executive that it reports to," Hostmann said.
Philips Electronics has undertaken a broad program over the last few years to revamp its performance management, financials reporting, marketing, IT and technology, said Jan Hommen, former vice chairman and chief financial officer of Philips, who gave a keynote speech. It has 40 BI projects nearly completed with SAP.
Among those include creating an online business balance scorecard for every reporting unit, including financial and market results and where to improve. The company is also working to slash the time it takes to report results to the executive board from around 14 days to five days, Hommen said.
Hommen came to Philips in 1997 from Alcoa, an aluminum producer that has one of the fastest financial reporting systems, ahead of IT companies. "Shareholders feel if you report quickly, you have to be good because otherwise you can't," he said.