Crunching the numbers

It could be argued that business intelligence is the crystallisation of everything an enterprise IT department is supposed to do. In theory at least, it takes vast swathes of corporate data and converts it into useful, actionable information and insight with which to make better decisions.

Small wonder, then, that BI has consistently topped Gartner’s annual poll of CIO priorities for the last few years.

Enterprise IT leaders know that the way to please their internal customers is to give them the information they need to be good at their jobs. But many IT departments have a love-hate relationship with BI.

The term itself, although broad even by the standards of business-IT jargon, has come to be associated with a specific kind of information management project, namely a monolithic data warehouse, with querying and reporting functionality placed on top.

Too often, this approach has lead to expensive but under-used BI systems. Gartner BI analyst James Richardson tells of one organisation where the IT employees required to maintain the BI implementation outnumber the business-side staff that use it.

Of course, there are many examples where this approach has delivered great value. But as this month’s lead feature demonstrates, there are as many different approaches to BI and analytics as there are ways in which the intelligent use of data can help a business succeed.

The backdrop to this – and all enterprise IT discussions right now – is of course the economic climate. And while vendors in every segment of the IT industry are at present putting a ‘recessionbusting’ spin on their technology, such claims do have some weight behind them when it comes to BI and analytics.

There are countless strategies being adopted by business to defy the downturn – customer prioritisation; supplier optimisation; financial restructuring, to name but a few – and every one of them depends on timely, accurate and relevant information. That explains why BI spending appears to be holding up even as total IT spend heads south.

For many organisations, however, a cultural change must precede a technology deployment. Basing management decisions on statistical data is anathema to some business leaders, perhaps as a result of being stung by bad data in the past or perhaps due to a belief that instinct alone got them where they are today. But refusing to acknowledge the facts is as unwise in business as it is in life.

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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