Web 2.0 tools inspire data-sharing software

Business Objects CEO says tools like wikis and mashups will give employees more control over data in ECM systems

Businesses that use ECM (enterprise content management) software to manage data could soon be giving employees more control over that data, as application providers are inspired by Web 2.0 tools like wikis, mashups and data tags.

This new approach will be part of a "Business Intelligence 2.0 Revolution" that makes any company's data more democratic, so employees can access it anywhere and use it for any task, said John Schwarz, CEO of Business Objects, speaking at the AIIM/On Demand trade show in Boston Wednesday.

Thousands of companies already use records management software to track the information stored in various databases and ensure they can locate it on demand, whether they need to preserve e-mail records for corporate litigation, make paper documents available for digital searches or meet government regulations for financial accounting. Mistakes in that process can lead to legal tangles, such as the demands for missing e-mail records in the Intel antitrust case or White House advisor Karl Rove's involvement in firing federal attorneys.

BI (business intelligence) software goes a step beyond document tracking, and helps users to fix the inefficiencies in how they save and share their data. Software providers such as Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft have developed sets of software tools to serve that need, but future BI suites can be far more powerful using Web 2.0-style technology and behavior, Schwarz said.

The new software could use social networks to give users the power to pool resources and buying power, he said. Owens and Minor in Mechanicsville, Virginia, is a hospital equipment supplier that uses Business Objects software to merge buying budgets of thousands of hospitals and save them money by negotiating with medical equipment vendors for volume discounts, Schwarz said to cite an example.

Next-generation software could also rely on a large community of individuals to contribute to a database and correct their own mistakes, in a model similar to the Wikipedia.org online encyclopedia. Organic Valley Farms is a dairy cooperative based in LaFarge, Wisconsin, that uses BI software to monitor nationwide demand for milk, compare that to competitors' productivity and weather patterns, and adjust their own production and shipping to maximize profits, Schwarz said.

Now Business Objects plans to improve on those creative applications with "ambient business intelligence," a software product that makes BI available while a spectrum of other applications continues to run, he said. That would allow PC users to click on a "floating widget" and access their BI software without leaving the backbone database application they're currently working in, whether it's ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management) or supply chain management software.

Future versions of Web-inspired BI software could also send data to mobile platforms like handsets and cell phones, allow simple Google-fashion searches as well as expert data queries, and expand databases that contain purely coded information to also include unstructured documents, e-mail, and even images.