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Keeping up with the times
The proliferation of operational BI is getting a boost from a rising demand for sophisticated composite applications. Vendors such as Actuate, Cognos, and IBM are focusing efforts on delivering BI services and components to allow them to embed their core technologies within external apps from the likes of Oracle, SAP, and Siebel Systems.
Siebel Business Analytics is one platform that leverages operational BI. “We have Web services interfaces so you can take any analytical result from Siebel Analytics and inject it into a Java application or .Net application, and so on. That lets us display analytical results in another application,” says Paul Rodwick, vice president of marketing for Siebel Business Analytics at Siebel. But aside from that, the secret to success is “rich, deep integration of analytics into [CRM apps] to direct workflow and get more real-time information flowing,” he says.
Application developers are relying on EII (enterprise information integration) software, which provides an abstraction layer over information assets that allows for a single, composite view of data derived from disparate sources. EII technology allows for virtual joining of data from disparate, unrelated sources for the purpose of surfacing information directly from enterprise apps or non-data-warehousing sources.
For example, a BI tool such as Cognos ReportNet uses Composite Software’s Composite Information Server, which allows ReportNet to extract information from data repositories spread across an organization and compile it into a single report.
But it’s important not to play fast and loose with the word “report” when discussing operational BI. Until recently, “BI” and “report” have been joined at the hip. But not everyone needs pages and pages of analysis. “You don’t want to give reports to a call-center person,” Rodwick says. “You want to give them a nugget of information that changes what their screen tells them to do.”
And that information “has to be so simple, my mother can use it,” Forrester’s Gile quips. “Because who do we have in the call centers? Generally, they aren’t trained in BI, nor should they have to be.”
Rodwick suggests that operational BI turns the venerable software category on its head. “Most traditional BI solutions are about driving masses of reports to people who have to go through them, figure out what interests them, and then decide what action to take,” he says. “The major trend for BI [applications] is to drive select information to individuals when they need it, be sure that it’s already relevant to what they have to accomplish, and then guide them toward what action to take.”
IT rolls up its sleeves