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Gearing up for DIY BI

BI for the masses - if they're ready for it

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Comment Every coming trend or market needs a good name to define it, so let’s try this one: DIYBI, the Do IT Yourself Business Intelligence system.

The premise being put forward by companies looking to move into DIYBI is that BI so far is only being performed by the largest enterprises, and then only by white-coated rocket scientists operating as something close to a secret society. Now, they say, it is time for BI to be open to `the masses’ as a self-service offering that no longer requires a trip to the BI Masonic lodge.

Microsoft is, of course, the big name player that is now starting to sniff round the BI honeypot currently sweetening business for the likes of SAS Institute, Business Objects, Oracle, Information Builders, SAP and Cognos. These companies mainly pitch BI at the high-end enterprises, and are accused of creating an environment where mere mortals such a business managers are obliged to ask the BI `rocket scientists’ for any information they require.

But the trend towards empowering those massed mere mortals is now well underway, though they will need to look carefully at what they think they are buying, for not all BI tools are born equal. This is not to knock them, however. More it is just important for users to understand that, for example, an analytical presentation tool will only be as good as the data - and the data management environment - that underpins it.

As the direct interface to the user presentation tools are vitally important and as Dan Vesset, research director of IDC, has been quoted as saying in a press release from Spotfire, “reporting and dashboarding software often falls short in providing true decision support functionality for business professionals.” True enough, and Spotfire is claiming that its new DXP (Data Experience) offering helps overcome that problem, not least by packaging up some of the common queries business people need to make. So there is a range of `solution-configured’ packages for sales, marketing and portfolio management.

The company has also introduced Guided Analytics as part of DXP. This allows users to publish a guided walk-through of their view of an information set - a BI `slideshow’ in a way, that seems like a potentially useful tool. There is also DXP Metrics, a collection of embedded statistical routines together with a tool for building statistical expressions. Built on .NET, DXP can connect to whatever databases or data results the user needs.

Quality assurance

By packaging up statistical routines and standard queries for common market sectors DXP will certainly take the masses some of the way towards BI, though it is not unreasonable to observe that it will only be as good as the management of the raw data on which it draws - the validity and quality of which is the equally important alter ego of BI, and something the `rocket scientists’ tend to take quite seriously as an integral part of the BI mix. Quality assurance of the data used is really the crux of BI and usually one of the expensive parts of the process. Poor or zero data QA management will invalidate the reason for having BI at all, and could be seriously damaging to a business in the hands of the naïve or unscrupulous.

Because front-end systems need a back-end to drive them, one trend that will be seen as vendors jockey for a share of the BI-for-the-masses market is rationalisation via acquisition. The latest example of this has been the move by Applix to acquire Temtec International BV. The latter’s Executive Viewer is an analysis and reporting front-end tool aimed at the self-service-analysis sector. It integrates with a number of back end systems, such as Hyperion Essbase, Microsoft Analysis Services and SAP.

Applix plans to use it to provide a single interface to performance management systems that can be applied across a diverse range of business monitoring and management requirements.

And is all this Business Intelligence needed? Well, according to a survey conducted by Vanson Bourne for Microsoft, the answer is yes. This report sets out to establish that businesses - and UK businesses in particular - have very bad Business IQ because they are not using BI properly or at all.

One of the problems it identifies is a traditional one, and not necessarily a BI one at all: namely, that much business information and intelligence is held by people rather than the system, and that there is a need to break down these information silos. That, however, is arguably more a cultural and knowledge management issue than a BI one.

According to the press release, it does seem that the report uses some strangely irrelevant statistics to help make its point, such as `63 per cent of organisations using BI technology deploy Microsoft SQL Servers while 33 per cent use Business Objects’, which does seem to be a `car/combine harvester’ comparison. But despite that, there is a point to it - that there is a need for DIYBI, and for it to really take off there is still a good deal of end user education required. ®

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