The application of business intelligence (BI) is going through a critical, but confused, phase. BI is being more widely deployed then ever before, and ever greater claims are being made for its potency. In several recent surveys, IT executives put it at the top, or near the top, of their priorities.
This enthusiasm for the technology is, however, tempered by a palpable sense of uncertainty. The sector is marked by rapid vendor consolidation, which means a new strategic roadmap for some products and the end of the road for others; there is increased enthusiasm for new approaches to the application of BI – whether business/corporate performance management, real-time BI or predictive analytics – that were scarcely on the radar three years go; and the desire to analyse both unstructured and structured data, along with the impact of service-oriented architecture, is prompting many big organisations to rethink their entire information architecture.
Against that backdrop is a growing body of research showing that BI is difficult to get right: too often, even technically successful projects fail for business reasons.
It was against this backdrop that Information Age held its Business Intelligence 2007 conference in March, our third annual BI event. Acknowledging some of the uncertainties – as well as the opportunities – in BI at present, the programme planners focused on three key issues.
The first of these concerned the choice of technology. Because there are so many BI tools and systems now available, the conference addressed the issue of how users should ensure they are working with the right applications, tools and platforms. Should they, for example, buy one integrated BI suite to span the entire organisation or select specialist tools for specific BI tasks.
Second, the conference focused on how BI systems can be designed to ensure that end users are given actionable insights – not just a lot of reports or too much of the wrong information. A key message: BI is at its most effective when it is applied as part of a corporate-wide performance management system.
A third theme also emerged from the conference: the most successful users of BI are those that make a high-level executive commitment, that think imaginatively, and that strive to anticipate events (such as customer needs) before they occur. These organisations’ BI tools might, as keynote speaker Royce Bell of Accenture told the audience, still be 250 million years behind the human brain in terms of intelligence, but they will be one step ahead of competitors – or even predators