BI is shedding its staid reputation as a report-generating tool for an elite squadron of executives and financial managers. Although no one is forsaking the value of those reports for evaluating business goals and forecasting growth, data culled using big BI apps from vendors such as Business Objects, Cognos, and Hyperion -- along with mini-BI applications embedded in other enterprise systems, including ERP and CRM -- are bringing BI to the masses, from line-of-business managers to call-center or support-desk workers.
Results from the InfoWorld Business Intelligence Report 2005 bear this out: During the next year, 70 percent of respondents plan to increase the number of employees who have access to BI solutions.
Rather than BI being used as a separate, disconnected mechanism for analysis -- the ultimate example being CPM (corporate performance management) systems -- BI applications integrated with other apps are delivering the capability to display and interact with BI data in its native form, in real time. A call-center upsell application with an embedded BI app, for example, can predict which of a handful of products would be best-suited for a particular customer based on that customer’s recent transactions and credit history, as well as on the company’s inventory.
Bill Gassman, principal analyst at Gartner, observes, “BI is showing up at deeper levels of the organization. It’s a shift toward directed BI, where you’re guiding people through decisions.” The InfoWorld Business Intelligence Report reveals that 45 percent of companies surveyed now use BI solutions to guide employees through decision-making processes.
Our survey, administered via the Internet between Feb. 24 and March 9, also revealed that 32 percent of respondents think that the most important feature of their companies’ BI solution is prepackaged integration with existing enterprise applications. Analysts expect those numbers to grow.
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Alaska Airlines is forging ahead toward its goal of getting “business intelligence down to the customer-facing level” by using Siebel Business Analytics, says James Archuleta, director of CRM at Alaska Airlines. The challenge is controlling the flow. “We’re still working on the metadata layer to define what all the business rules are because we don’t want ad hoc BI gone crazy,” he says.
The trickling down of BI is reflected in several terms. Noted expert Keith Gile, principal analyst at Forrester Research, calls it operational BI: analytic functionality built into the procedural interface of an enterprise application -- the screens and applications used by sales personnel, for example -- that makes or recommends decisions for end-users, thereby shrinking operational response time to minutes or seconds.
“We are witnessing a shift away from merely seeing BI as tactical or strategic” at high levels in the organization, Gile says. In some instances, BI apps are embedded to add value to the existing enterprise apps; in other instances, data from BI apps is “surfaced as a meaningful component of the enterprise app,” he says.