BI adds up to a billion-dollar inconsistency

Companies are wasting billions of dollars on business intelligence tools through poor deployment by limiting user access and creating silos of inconsistent data.

While Gartner estimates $US40 billion will have been wasted in BI tools by 2003, Giga analyst Keith Gile claims their deployment is ineffective, with only small amounts of enterprise data made available to only 5 per cent of users.

However, the democratisation of business intelligence is upon us - more people should have more access to more information. And according to Jon Piercey, Australian manager of BI technology supplier Information Builders, this is not just a desirable state, it’s a necessity.

Business intelligence is about taking data and turning it into meaningful information. Unfortunately, as the result of organisational structure, different levels of financial support, different opportunities, different needs, and the inevitable building of organisational (and information) fiefdoms, there hasn’t always been equal access to information across the enterprise.

"In a typical organisation there can be three, four, five or six different business intelligence tools employed on a departmental level.

"This duplication of tools is not only costly in terms of maintenance and licence contracts, but also damaging to the organisation. It creates silos of inconsistent data; it is expensive and difficult to maintain, and it hurts the business," he said.

To a certain extent, this waste of information and money has been unavoidable. Enterprise-wide tools have not always been available or satisfactory. This has encouraged individual departments to go their own way. IT managers have been sidelined either through lack of control or because they simply have been unable (technically or financially) to provide enterprise-wide “whole of business” tools.

Now, though, there is no such excuse, Piercey says. “The crime is not that this situation has occurred; the crime is in letting it continue.”

The tools are now here to work across disparate data systems, he says. Lack of standardisation of data is no longer a barrier. The right BI tools can access data from a range of sources and transform it into information, with different users accessing different levels of information via intranets, extranets and the Internet. Rather than traditional measures of tens or hundreds of licence seats, Piercey says his company has customers with hundreds of thousands of users. In fact, via the Internet, the number of people having access to business intelligence (albeit restricted to specific levels) can be unlimited.

"We are putting an end to the ‘information aristocracy’," he says.

This revolutionary rally cry is not so much ‘democratisation’ of access to information as ‘communisation’ – gaining access according to need, giving information according to ability.

And according to Piercey, that ability to give information has grown exponentially in recent years. The BI tool of the future, he says, should have wide functionality, broad data source connectivity, and virtually infinite enterprise scalability.

“Business intelligence must be scalable three ways,” he says. “It must be scalable for the number of users, the types of users [from novices and outsiders to business analysts and senior managers], and the types of applications they have access to [from self-service and production reporting through query and analysis and scorecards to CPM and EIS].”

Needless to say, Information Builders reckons it has such a product in WebFocus 5. Piercey says this product is at the convergence of traditional enterprise business intelligence suites and robust reporting tools.

So watch out, the revolution is here. And too bad if you’re an information aristocrat. Let’s hope you don’t lose your head.

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