Patterns gleaned from the past should always inform planning for the future. In most enterprises, though, there’s been a serious disconnect.
For years, business analysts have enjoyed a clear “rearview mirror” picture of the past based on loads of historical data extracted with data-mining tools and massaged with business intelligence reports. The view “through the windshield,” however, has largely been based on siloed, simplified roll-ups of those numbers crunched in desktop spreadsheets. With neither the near-real-time access to granular data nor the tools to analyze it, many significant opportunities or pitfalls looming ahead simply can’t be anticipated.
BI is now filling that gap with new analytical features plus the capability to access a broad, up-to-date array of data sources made available recently through advanced integration technology. Meanwhile, the fruit of that higher-quality number crunching is being delivered to a much broader range of users. Visually informative dashboards and scorecards are multiplying up and down the enterprise.
Much of the latest BI innovation has been driven by the only two consistent growth sectors in the economy: health care and security. Ironically, both sectors are purely overhead functions. Therefore, both must constantly demonstrate their benefit and -- for different reasons -- adapt to events in real time.
Instant Predictive Analysis
“Dashboards certainly are something you can apply to historical data, but they are exciting as a business tool only when you use them in a real-time context,” says Nathaniel Palmer, chief analyst at Delphi Group.
Palmer thinks that advantage is even stronger with the addition of predictive analytics. “It’s hot,” he says, “and over time we’re seeing an emergence of online analysis of the stream of real-time data.”
One organization that has embraced this model is Emergency Medical Associates (EMA), a hospital emergency-room practice with a post-911 “syndromic surveillance” system.
EMA -- which has hospital contracts across New York and New Jersey -- realized that in the event of a biological terrorist attack, early victims would end up at the emergency rooms it runs. With the right systems in place, EMA staff could not only evaluate symptoms at the point of treatment but also keep abreast of what was transpiring at multiple emergency rooms, thereby enabling them to identify possible outbreaks, note the geographic pattern of how they are moving, and broadcast medical knowledge in real time to combat the spread.
Jonathan Rothman, director of data management at EMA, put into place a Business Objects Application Foundation in late 2003. “We might not have done it without 9/11,” he says. “But having done it, we established ourselves as the analytics department for the hospitals -- when we’re working out contracts, we sell them the idea of reports and analytics.” In other words, the same technology used to detect an epidemic is being used to spot trends and analyze treatment effectiveness and customer satisfaction.