Gartner says key to BI is talk, not tech.

Establish metrics, training and support before buying.

Research firm Gartner has warned organisations against splurging on technology for Business Intelligence (BI) projects.

Speaking of the discipline of Business Intelligence, rather than the technology, Gartner global BI manager Ian Bertram said organisations will fail if they “throw products at the problem” and do not invest in training or acquire business support.

The BI discipline involves analysis of raw data through data mining and online analytical processing which companies can use to find malfunctioning machines, improve manufacturing processors and cut costs.

The sticking points, Bertram said, are as much about improving poor communication and BI skills, as sifting useful data from the rubbish.

“Organisations tend to throw technology at BI problems. You could have the right tool, but it could be doomed to failure because of political and cultural issues, an absence of executive support so the message doesn't get out, and poor communication and training,” Bertram said.

“It provides transparency through all levels of business right down to the forklift driver and can help business to react fast to competition and change.”

Gartner says BI is top of mind for CIOs, along with enterprise information and content management, data management and integration, and social software and collaboration. It has remained in top spot for three years in the firm's annual Executive Programmes survey, while the firm predicts BI vendor revenue in the Asia Pacific region will increase by a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 15.5 percent by 2011, thanks in part to emerging green field developments.

Bertram said many organisations struggle to find benchmarks and metrics and do not know where to define objectives.

“Having a standard set of enterprise metrics sounds easy but can be quite complex, we've come across organisations with a 1000 metrics, but follow the old Kaplan and Norton balanced scorecard and focus on 'visionary' metrics at the top,” he said.

Subsequent metrics gathered from all levels of an organisation should assist with achieving the “visionary” objectives.

Gartner has defined the BI competency centre to resolve problems it claims derive from poor communication between businesses units. Representatives from each unit chair the centre and are tasked with deciding how BI can best serve their field of work, including defining governance, appropriate metrics and architecture, and staff training.

Bertram, who will this week discuss the BI competency centre at a Sydney Summit, said businesses of all sizes can make money from a well planned BI process.

Sydney Water saved millions when it found [though BI] one of its turbines was running all the time... They were able to balance the load across other turbines,” he said.

“You could pick a number of organisations from every sector and find those that haven't managed [BI] projects well. They realise the BI technology is not a silver bullet and that it is intrinsically linked to business process and management of applications and data.”

Gartner will hold its first BI excellence award for Australia at the end of day one at the summit. A short list of three, including India's ICICI Bank, Singapore's Tetra Pak, and Australia's Amcor, were whittled down by industry judges from some 20 nominations and will showcase their projects to the summit's voting audience.

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