In the evolving world of business intelligence, swift and targeted access to reports and analysis is the name of the game. But the frequent inability of employees to locate the results they need from high-end BI applications is prompting several enterprise search vendors to step in and address the challenge.
Because BI relies on data generated by accounting, sales, CRM systems, and other back-end applications, it represents a lot of data. IT departments that have made substantial investments in BI packages from Cognos, Information Builders, Oracle, and SAP, among others, are looking at ways to better expose that data and make it all actionable at a much faster clip. Meanwhile, the number of workers who need daily access to BI data to be more effective at their jobs steadily rises.
"A lot of things are changing in the industry to help expose more BI information," says Frank Brooks, chief data architect at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. "We had reached the point where we had so much BI information that it was difficult to go and find just one piece of it. So we had to counter that."
Brooks and his team deployed IBM WebSphere Content Discovery for Business Intelligence, which in tandem with other integrated applications, allows more workers to access critical BI data required for negotiating rates with various care providers and for processing claims. Rather than, say, waiting for biweekly reports and sifting through them, employees can now access a portal to search an array of applications where BI information is stored.
Brooks is one of many IT managers taking advantage of the increasing cross-over between enterprise search and BI. Following news in April of Google OneBox, which extended the reach of the Google Search Appliance to BI, IBM and Microsoft announced new products and features for customers who want to marry search functionality with BI to get real-time business analytics into the hands of more employees. In May, Fast Search and Transfer joined its Enterprise Search Platform with Cognos 8 Business Intelligence solution to deliver corporate content directly to workers who are not necessarily sophisticated BI consumers.
According to Vinod Baya, director at PricewaterhouseCoopers' Technology Center in San Jose, corporate users today are having difficulty getting to BI data due to three principal problems: "They aren't aware that a BI report exists for the analysis they need; or if they know it exists, they can't find it; or they can find it, but it doesn't contain all the information they need." Enterprise search, he says, can help with all three pain points.
Getting to the data
On many BI systems, the reports are designed by analysts versed in the software package's report writer. These reports are catalogued as templates and generally run on a recurring basis, such as month-end. Then, the resulting documents are distributed to specific mailing lists of users.
The problem of finding the data in such a situation is two-fold for any user who isn't on the regular mailing list. Firstly, how do you know if the report even exists? And secondly, if the report is known to exist, how do you access it? The latter problem is especially common because reports often sit on file servers where they are assigned cryptic names by the BI software.