Users turn to operational BI tools

To keep up with competitors, enterprises increasingly are demanding operational business intelligence -- analytics embedded into processes to handle exceptions and make real-time decisions.

Several corporate users said this week that they are implementing such techniques as tools emerge from key vendors such as SAS and Cognos.

Just last month, Briggs & Stratton, a manufacturer of lawn mower and garden tiller engines, began rolling out portal technology from the SAS 9 BI tool set and pairing it with SAS analytical applications. The company is looking for the joint system to provide its employees with BI information embedded in accounting, production and sales processes.

"It is such a hot button for us right now," said Grant Felsing, decision-support manager at Briggs & Stratton. "Show me those things that are within my area that are not within norms or . . . are heading for a collision course."

For example, the portal can alert accountants that correct accounting procedures are not in place to handle orders as a new engine is set to be shipped, Felsing said. Before the BI was embedded in its processes, the company would have to take orders out of the system, re-enter the correct accounting information and then re-enter orders the next day to ensure that the products would ship correctly, he explained.

Growing market

SAS and Cognos are among a growing number of vendors making a push into operational BI, said Keith Gile, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"Businesses want to get more value out of all of the data, not just the data warehouse. Many of the real-time decisions that need to be made must be made while the process is happening, like while the customer is on the phone or when the patient is being treated," Gile said.

New York-based Information Builders earlier this month unveiled WebFocus 7, a BI tool set geared toward providing operational BI. It includes native access to more than 200 data sources through integration adapters from the vendor's iWay Software subsidiary.

Information Builders and iWay have historically marketed their products separately, but they are now integrating iWay's integration and metadata management tools into WebFocus 7 to meet a growing market for operational BI, said Michael Corcoran, vice president of Information Builders.

Scheduled to ship next month, WebFocus 7 will provide access to relational and legacy data, data from enterprise applications and data warehouses, and data from operational systems, he said.

Pharmascience, a beta user of WebFocus 7, is hoping that the new integration features will help the pharmaceutical company better manage inventory, said Jonathan Despres, manager of information access.

Now, inventory information can be delayed by as much as a week, Despres said. Linking WebFocus 7 to the company's SAP data warehouse -- a goal of the firm -- would allow inventory information to be included in product warehouse businesses process, he said. "If [users] get information delayed by a week, it's almost impossible to reduce the inventory level," he said.

Alaska Airlines in the past two months has begun deploying business analytics tools from Siebel Systems in its marketing organization. The tools will be integrated with Alaska Air's customer management system and will incorporate data from Sabre Holdings' Sabre reservations system, said James Archuleta, director of CRM at the Seattle-based airline.

The Siebel tools will enable Alaska Air to tie together loyalty program and flight-scheduling databases with a metadata layer from the Siebel technology. Call center representatives will then have updated customer information in their desktop applications, said Archuleta.

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