Context is king

There have been plenty of market watchers keen to hype up the importance of business intelligence (BI) – the technology is today frequently ranked highly on the list of priorities of CIOs. And yet, spending on the technology remains largely static.

One reason is that vendors are out of touch with their customers’ requirements, says Gerry Brown, lead BI analyst at Bloor Research. There is a disconnect between users’ requirements and the solutions on offer, he argues, which is clearly reflected in the buying behaviour of users, where best-of-breed point products, such as fraud detection or data quality tools, are currently favoured ahead of BI suites. This is a view endorsed by many delegates at the Business Intelligence 07 conference.

BI vendors are pursuing technological advancements such as predictive analysis and real-time BI, but businesses have other priorities, says Brown. They want BI tools that can be quickly and easily implemented and they want numerical analysis to be integrated into business processes and into the supply chain. In short, businesses want BI in context.

Without vendors automatically providing that context, business leaders have hitherto sought assistance from management consultants – at considerable expense – says Brown. But advances in technology promise to satisfy that demand for greater context.

Content intelligence

Brown uses the term ‘content intelligence’ to describe a new and developing set of tools that combines the analytical capabilities of BI with the power to manage unstructured data provided by content management systems. “Business intelligence [technology] is all about numbers,” he explains, “but numbers don’t tell the whole story.”

Content intelligence combines search, text analytics, core BI functionality and data analytics to build a holistic view of events and performance, incorporating unstructured data such as emails and blog posts. Consequently, raw figures from BI can be presented alongside relevant text, thus providing context to the analysis.

Lead BI analyst at Bloor Research


Initial estimates of the value of this context are enticing: Inxight, a company whose content analysis technology is already licensed to many of the leading BI vendors, claims that it can, on average, save businesses $60 million a year by minimising the time employees have to spend sorting through unstructured data. Naturally, business leaders should retain a healthy scepticism about vendor marketing, notes Brown, but irrespective of absolute numbers, the example provides an intriguing insight into the possibilities for content intelligence.

The value will be realised most at enterprises with large volumes of text-based information to analyse, says Brown. The test-beds for the technology are likely to be found at companies conducting clinical trials, fraud detection analysis or compliance testing.

One early example is Shanghai General Motors, which has used text analysis tools to dramatically improve its ability to identify the causes of faults in customers’ vehicles, thereby improving the resolution of such issues. Consequently, its warranty costs have been cut by 34%.

Most of the giants of computing are already developing ‘content intelligence’ technology, says Brown: Oracle has its ‘open search initiative’; IBM its ‘universal management agent’; and Microsoft its ‘business productivity infrastructure optimisation’ programme. All of these involve the integration of numerical analysis with text analytics.

Several ‘pure play’ BI vendors, such as Hyperion through its link up with Google, are embracing content intelligence by licensing search and content management technology to sit alongside their BI tools.

But of most significance, says Brown, is the example of search technology vendor FAST, which is taking a unique approach. Instead of placing a search tool ‘on top’ of a BI tool, so that the results of particular report can be examined in more detail, FAST has placed BI ‘on top’ of the search engine. This approach, says Brown, will grant users greater control over what content is subjected to analysis, especially when text-based content is included.

The prospective benefits of content intelligence are not limited to the data contained within the organisation, argues Brown. If applied to the web, the technology could form the basis of an automated method of gathering market insights and customer feedback. This, Brown concludes, means that organisations will continue to derive competitive advantage from their BI tools for years to come.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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