Vendors such as Business Objects foresee BI engines that hook into all sorts of processes and workflows to monitor anomalies and changes in trends, perhaps even using business rules engines to automate adjustments instead of just alerting people. “We see it as a layer that sits across all applications,” says James Thomas, senior vice president for corporate product marketing. Cognos has a similar vision, notes Don Campbell, vice president of platform strategies and technology.
Of course, Thomas and Campbell have software to sell. Instead of adding a BI layer on top, wouldn’t it be more effective to add BI functionality to the apps that pay attention to the results of the processes they execute? That, in fact, is part of what’s needed. And that’s why ERP, SCM, and other business applications are embedding more analytics for the transactions they manage, notes Ian Charlesworth, a BI analyst at the market research firm Ovum.
But users of app-specific solutions must keep their limitations in mind. “There’s no, for example, ERP application where reports roll up to a cross-process view like customer profitability,” says Deloitte’s Sognefest. In other words, applications that monitor certain processes may be immediately useful for certain managers who use those apps, but those same processes may also need to be monitored by software that works across multiple platforms. And IT should prepare to provide that operational visibility, he says, “now that the business case [for BI] has crystallized in users’ minds.”
One fashionable way to get the operational view is through the use of dashboards. But different dashboards may have different metrics under the hood, killing any shared understanding of what’s going on, notes Dan Thorpe, senior vice president of statistics and modeling for Wachovia bank.
The problem lies with how dashboards are typically deployed, either as canned products whose metrics are unknown to IT or as tools brought in at a departmental level by frustrated users. In either case, inconsistent views of what’s happening in the enterprise often result. “Anyone can get what they want and then argue over who’s right,” Sognefest says.
“There are more bad examples than good examples of dashboards,” PHH Arval’s Corrigan adds.
Ad hoc adoption of dashboards, KPIs, reports, and so forth are all warning signs that an enterprisewide BI strategy is failing — or that it doesn’t exist. “BI’s really the responsibility of the organization’s operating committee. But it’s often not a priority, so the technology moves into the middle,” Thorpe says, letting silos grow and confusion reign.
The bad news for IT is that local analytics can sneak easily into the enterprise, whether through Web-based offerings or common business tools. Microsoft Excel has long been used as a personal analytics tool, creating multiple views of the same information, says Mike Davis, a BI analyst at Ovum — and it will only get worse if enterprises deploy the new Excel server that includes powerful BI functions Microsoft acquired in April 2006 when it snapped up ProClarity, an analytics pure-play.