Users embracing 'BI for the masses'

Several users at Information Builders' (IBI) Summit 2006 user conference in Orlando last week are embracing a "BI for the masses" philosophy with new projects to quickly move business intelligence reports and analysis to workers, suppliers and customers.

For example, Rich Pedott, vice president of sourcing, planning and allocation at Eastern Mountain Sports said his company is testing a new system that promises to let customers access BI data from a dashboard.

"[The dashboard] provides you a very cheap way to do collaboration," Pedott said. "You are no longer requiring your supplier or your vendor community to make an investment in something like EDI. You can send them a [customized] dashboard that is relevant just to them. [Then] they can get insights and help drive your business."

Pedott, a conference attendee, declined to provide more details about the project, contending that it provides a competitive advantage in the retail industry.

IBI last week announced that it has integrated its WebFocus BI tools with subsidiary iWay Software's middleware. That will allow users to embed analytics into user business processes using Web services, IBI officials said.

IBI last week also touted its Active Reports tool, which began shipping April 10, as a means to extend BI to new internal and external users. The tool allows users to drill down into a report via e-mail as if they were connected directly to a BI report server.

Since December, Air Canada has been using a beta version of Active Reports, which it hopes can be used to provide reports to its international sales force, said Chantal Berthiaume, manager of marketing intelligence and information delivery at the Montreal-based airline.

The airline may also use the tool to provide reports to customers -- something the company had earlier decided not to do, she said. "There is no way we could invest in the infrastructure," Berthiaume said. "[Now] we would just have to send them an e-mail."

Rebecca Price, applications administrator at Dillard's said she hopes the department store chain can roll out Active Reports to help its buyers more easily access current product sales data while on the road.

Price said Dillard's has decided to extend the use of IBI's WebFocus tools beyond the accounting department, the company's only current user.

Dan Vesset, an analyst at IDC, said operational BI -- embedding BI in the business processes used by front-line workers -- is becoming more common as companies seek tools to help make better business decisions.

However, he and several users noted that companies must also make sure they provide an easy-to-use interface.

Robert Richards, director of application development at Carlson Hospitality Worldwide Procurement Group said operational BI applications must be as easy to use as an Internet search engine. "My end users have difficulty turning on the computer [and] with the concept of double-clicking on the mouse," Richards said.

Within the past four months, Carlson, a lessor of hotels, resorts and other properties, has rolled out WebFocus dashboards to its hotels.

Patrick Yip, a director at Pershing, which provides securities clearing and settlement services to institutional investors and investment advisers, agreed that training is key to any effort to expand access to BI tools.

Pershing requires that its BI interfaces be as easy to use as hotel reservation sites.

About 70,000 Pershing users can access WebFocus BI reports, Yip said. This year, he added, the Jersey City, N.J.-based company plans to merge its reporting tools with an undisclosed workflow engine to monitor the service levels for business processes, such as the time it takes to mail checks to customers.

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